Besides re-opening a well-worn chapter in Kentucky basketball history, Brad Calipari and John Calipari will join a surprisingly large fraternity of father-son collaborations.
Press and Pete Maravich. Al and Allie McGuire. Homer and Bryce Drew. Lon and Kevin Kruger. Greg and Doug McDermott. Dick and Tony Bennett. Wade and Allan Houston. Jerry and Danny Tarkanian. And, as UK fans know, there’s also Adolph and Herky Rupp, Eddie and Sean Sutton, and Tubby and Saul Smith.
To name a few.
The late Al McGuire, who had a gift for wit, famously defined a guiding principle for when father and son want to become coach and player. The son has to be the best player on the team or the worst player, he said. Anything in between raises the specter of nepotism, which fuels grumbling by fans and teammates.
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Allan Houston, who was an example of the son being the best player, said McGuire was correct.
“I think it took a little bit of the pressure off (my father) and I because of the talent level … ,” he said of playing for Tennessee in the 1990s. “Because I was a starter, I think that changed everything. Just impacted everything.”
To be a player of middling ability “adds a whole another layer to the dynamic with teammates,” Houston said. “We were blessed not to have gone through that part of it.”
Doug Barnes, once an assistant for Eddie Sutton at Kentucky, had two brushes with the father-son dynamic in his coaching career. The other came at Ole Miss when he watched Ed Murphy add his son, Sean, to the team.
Before making that decision, Ed Murphy checked with several coaches. He asked each coach about the wisdom of adding his son to the team.
“Each one of them said it was a mistake, and they wished they hadn’t done it,” Barnes said he was told by Murphy.
Yet, Murphy added his son, who became a target of fan discontent. Sean Sutton and Saul Smith know about that. Although it should be noted that Sean and Eddie Sutton enjoyed a fruitful partnership when they later reunited as player and coach at Oklahoma State.
So why do coaching fathers put their sons in that position? Barnes suggested that each father thinks his situation will be different.
Houston offered another, much more compelling reason that had more to do with father-son than coach-player.
The time demands associated with being a coach reduce the chances to be a father as the son grows up. So the coach-player relationship makes up for lost time.
“Most people, when you’re in your four years of college, you grow more distant from your father,” Houston said. “But we became closer because of getting to see each other, and see each other in intense moments and being together.”
His father’s quiet dignity while in the often calamitous coaching environment inspired Houston. “That was, to me, more impressive than any numbers I could have had,” he said.
Sean Sutton also looks back on how coach-player enhanced father-son.
“My mom pretty much raised me and my brothers,” he said. “(His father) did the best he could, but, I mean, he was just busy.
“It was a great opportunity for me to spend some time with him every day.”
Brad Calipari said that he accompanied his father on many recruiting trips. An annual trip to Las Vegas was a favorite. “He’d always ask me if I wanted to go,” the younger Calipari said. “Of course, I said, yeah.”
The next four years suggest many more trips together, plus practices and other basketball settings.
Victories and defeats aside, Houston offered advice for the Caliparis, pere and fils.
“What I would encourage them to do is use that time to grow even closer,” he said. “No matter how many minutes he plays, they just get to be with each other, learn about each other, help each other, support each other.
“And that will be the memories that they have because that’s only four years. You’ve got the rest of your life to reflect on that time and that relationship. That, to me, is the bigger picture.”
Tyler Ulis seemed a fitting winner of the Bob Cousy Award. He epitomized the kind of pass-first point guard mentality popularized by Hall of Famer Bob Cousy in the 1950s and 1960s. One big difference: Cousy played with an eye-catching flair, while Ulis was remarkably — and quietly — efficient.
Cousy laments that the selfless playing style Ulis embodied may be fading away.
“Unfortunately, kids are not coming through the schoolyards of the major cities these days focusing on becoming point guards,” Cousy said recently. “It’s not becoming a lost art, but ... not a lot of guards are geared toward creating opportunities for the other four people.”
In so many words, Cousy blamed what now constitutes highlight material in the age of television and social media.
“The glamour in the game is putting the ball in the basket and slam dunking and everything that goes with it,” he said. “That’s what the fans respond to.”
Cousy suggested that setting up teammates can be glamorous, too. You just need a discerning eye, he said, “to see a creative, imaginative point guard.”
In hopes of raising the league’s basketball profile, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey hired former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese as a consultant this spring.
For anyone who might question whether the SEC basketball profile needed raising, here’s something to consider. In the last three NCAA tournaments, the SEC received the least amount of at-large bids among the five major conferences. And the SEC was last in the Philadelphia 76er sense of the term.
Here are the numbers: the Big 12 had 18 at-large bids in the last three NCAA tournaments, the Big Ten had 17, the Atlantic Coast Conference had 16, the Pacific 12 had 14 and the SEC had eight.
Every NCAA Tournament seems to follow the same pattern: Selection Sunday followed by Militant Monday, Testy Tuesday and Worrisome Wednesday. In the days after the bracket is announced, there’s second guessing by fans, media and coaches about bids, seeding and sites.
Why can’t the Selection Committee ever get it “right?”
Former Virginia Coach Terry Holland, who served on the Selection Committee in the 1990s, offered a reason: With more than 90 teams under consideration, second-guessing is inevitable.
“Once you get past a certain point in the bracket, you are just guessing, to be honest,” Holland said. “Because those teams begin to all look alike. All have flaws.
“So somebody who wants to say they should have taken that team can make a case for that.”
In the last two years, four Syracuse players have said they would transfer to another school. That increased to seven the number of Syracuse players who transferred in the last 10 years.
This led sportswriter Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard to try to put this exodus into perspective. As he wrote, were the transfers from Syracuse a scary new epidemic or merely another example of the common cold?
Duke has had 10 players transfer away in that time. That includes Derryck Thornton, who is currently seeking a new program.
Indiana has had 14 players transfer since Tom Crean became coach in 2008. That does not include a few players dismissed from the IU team, Waters wrote.
Kentucky has had 14 players transfer since 2007. Two coaching changes —– Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie in 2007 and Gillispie to John Calipari in 2009 —inflated that number. The headliner, of course, is Kyle Wiltjer, who transferred to Gonzaga.
Arizona has had 13 players transfer in the last 10 years.
The exception to the rule is North Carolina. Since 2007, only three players have transferred: Larry Drew II, and twins David and Travis Wear. All went to UCLA.
While one of the most prolific scorers in SEC history, Allan Houston was also on the wrong end of one of the most humiliating defeats in league history.
Of course, that is Kentucky’s 101-40 victory over Tennessee in the 1993 SEC Tournament. Houston, who was playing in his final college game, made only one of 15 shots and scored three points.
He finished his college career with 2,801 points, which is second only to Pete Maravich (3,667) among SEC players.
When asked about that game, Houston playfully said, “When I think of playing Kentucky, I tend to think of the four-point play … more than any other game.”
Two weeks before the 61-point blowout, Tennessee beat Kentucky 78-77 thanks to a four-point trip down court in the final seconds (a put-back of a missed free throw figured prominently).
Kentucky exacted plenty of payback in the SEC Tournament. The Cats led 41-17 at halftime, before really putting it on Tennessee (60-23 in the second half).
Of that humiliation, Houston said, “I try to find a silver lining in everything.”
Here’s what he came up with: Had he played well, perhaps he would have been drafted earlier than by the Detroit Pistons with the 11th pick in the 1993 NBA Draft.
“I ended up meeting my wife (Tamara), who was from Detroit,” Houston said. “So I always try to find a silver lining.”
Nice guy note
Rob Bromley was the guest speaker at last week’s meeting of the Kiwanis Club of the Bluegrass.
During a Q-and-A session, Bromley was asked who had been the “nicest” person he had covered in his 40-plus years as a broadcaster. He admitted he hadn’t given the question much thought. Then he named Karl-Anthony Towns.
Bromley, a nice guy himself, is the sports anchor at WKYT, channel 27.
Thanks to Tony Chamblin for passing along the note.
To Dwane Casey. He turns 59 on Sunday (today). … To baseball’s Doug Flynn. He turns 65 on Monday. … To Nate Knight. He turns 38 on Monday. … To Derrick Millar. He turns 48 on Tuesday. … To Scott Padgett. He turns 40 on Tuesday. …. To Michael Bradley. He turns 37 on Tuesday. … To Ashley Judd. She turns 48 on Tuesday.