For Asbury Coach Will Shouse and his family, the exhibition game at Kentucky next fall serves two seemingly contradictory purposes. It’s a dream come true for Shouse, who is a lifelong UK fan. And it’s a much needed and much appreciated respite from heartache.
Shouse and his wife, Whitney, adopted a baby boy, Ray Hudson. He died on Dec. 10, having lived four months and two days.
Ray’s death followed Whitney suffering two miscarriages and an earlier adoption falling through.
“All within two years,” Whitney said. “We lost four babies in two years.”
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So Asbury’s game at Kentucky on Nov. 6 is, in part, a distraction, which sports teams usually wish to avoid. But in this case, Shouse and his families, personal and basketball, embrace the distraction.
“It occupied my mind in a positive way,” Shouse said of the exhibition in Rupp Arena. “Not a day goes by without me thinking of this game.”
Whitney echoed that sentiment. “When you have something awful happen, it doesn’t just go away,” she said. “The Kentucky game is so exciting. It’s sort of a ray of light, a ray of sunshine in the midst of trouble.”
Ray was born on Aug. 8 to a mother in prison, Whitney said. Doctors said he might have a serious heart condition, but he might survive. Complications set in. The Asbury coach goes to the cemetery multiple times each week.
“My team rallied around us,” Shouse said. “Then to get the call (from UK agreeing to play), it’s been a real lift for me and my family.”
After scheduling the game, UK Coach John Calipari sent the Shouses a letter of condolence. “He was really nice about it,” Whitney said.
Whitney is the niece of Oak Hill Academy Coach (and Asbury graduate) Steve Smith. Her grandfather, Winston Smith, was a coach (and Asbury graduate) who encouraged the NAIA school to begin a basketball program, which it did in 1991-92.
“I’m just a basketball person,” Whitney said. “It is our life. The team, those are our boys, and they have been our rock through all of this.”
Shouse is optimistic that Asbury can have a good season in 2016-17. The team is adding a player from Oak Hill Academy (6-6 South African Bushe Ramabu) and 6-8 Jared Farris, a native of Mount Washington, which, of course, is Derek Willis’ hometown.
The game at Kentucky has practical importance. The guarantee can help improve the Asbury team’s travel: buses rather than vans to more road games, two or three players sharing a hotel room rather than four, new uniforms, less team meals of pizza or fast food.
“Eat at places that will help guys play better,” Shouse said.
But the game’s greater purpose would seem to be how it can act as a salve for wounded souls.
Will and Whitney Shouse have three children: a son, Turner, 12, and daughters Layni, 10, and Hattie Jayne, 5.
Even with everything that’s happened in the last two years, the Shouses would like more children.
“We know our family is not done,” Whitney said. “We’re trying to decide whether we should adopt or do foster care.”
After a pause, Whitney added, “I wish God would just leave a baby on our doorstep.”
Last week, UK Coach John Calipari suggested that Skal Labissiere could one day be considered the best player in the 2016 NBA Draft. Ever the promoter, he trumpeted Labissiere’s potential to blossom in a future season.
This seemed to help illustrate something former NBA coach Del Harris said recently about the draft process. In appraising prospects, NBA types in search of an objective opinion don’t rely solely on college coaches. In so many words, Harris said college coaches are not always credible. They want to help their players — and perhaps themselves — any way they can.
Harris suggested there can be another ulterior motive. See if this sounds like a description of how a prominent program inside New Circle Road operates.
“You learn early on that most coaches would give a positive report about anybody they had in hopes they might make the NBA,” Harris said. “And, ‘Hey, I got this many guys in the NBA,’ he could tell the guys he’s recruiting for next year.”
Coach Cal vs. Coach K
The recent news-making involving John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski sounded like a story about rival salesmen trying to convince a potential customer to buy his product rather than his rival’s.
In this case, the customer was a highly regarded prospect in the class of 2017, Hamidou Diallo. He said Kentucky pitched its fast-track development of NBA players, while Duke touted the life-long benefits associated with attending a prestigious school.
Given Duke joining Kentucky as a program associated with one-and-done players, friction seems inevitable. Calipari scoffed at Duke’s pitch, which he likened to giving a customer a fish. UK teaches its customers how to fish, he said.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas shrugged.
“All is fair in love and recruiting,” he said. “So I really don’t care. At the end of the day, it’s all just talk. Whatever floats your boat or catches you a fish, it’s all good by me. …
“Everybody’s trying to sell their best attribute. Nothing wrong with that.”
The NBA Combine provided further evidence for why the Southeastern Conference hired Mike Tranghese to help bolster the league’s basketball profile.
Aside from four players from Kentucky, the rest of the SEC was represented at the NBA Combine by four players: Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones of Vandy, Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida and Malik Newman of Mississippi State.
“There’s not a lot there for the SEC at the moment,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said.
Most conspicuous by his absence was Mississippi guard Stefan Moody, who led the SEC in scoring at 23.6 points per game.
“Very good college player,” Fraschilla said. “Explosive scorer. But not the size or kind of game I think translates for a scoring guard.
“Having said that, he’s a kid that probably gets signed right after the draft. He has a chance to prove we’re all wrong. It happens every year.”
Chad Ford, ESPN’s NBA Draft analyst, said Moody’s shoot-first play at the Portsmouth Invitational this spring “left a very sour taste in the mouth of a lot of GMs.”
Winning isn’t everything
Ernest Henninger, 83, is a regular reader and email correspondent. He laments the changing nature of sports. Here’s his thought-provoking email sent last week:
“The remarkable run of the Chicago Cubs creates about as much interest in these parts as a mashed potato sandwich. Any professional team without a former ‘Cat’ on the roster might as well be contending for the national knitting title as far as Kentucky folks could care.
“But, there is a connection between the Cubs phenomenon and UK basketball … although it’s not altogether pleasant. The problem is the dark side to dominance.
“It may not be a problem for the players themselves, but for the fans it appears as anxiety that ‘their team’ might actually lose a game now and then.
“When one’s team — these Cubs or John Calipari’s ever-changing crew or the ’27 Yankees or the current Warriors — wins yet another game, you only breathe a sign of relief. By comparison, when an ordinary bunch wins a game or two or three in a row, the reaction is pure joy. The euphoria which would follow should UK football win three SEC games, or even just one win over an Alabama or Florida would far exceed a season’s full of ho-hum Rupp Arena affairs!
“The state of mind that accepts only winning again and again and again is part of what’s destroying the very sense of sport: game competition. Of course, money is the thing now, but playing hard and fair, doing one’s best, camaraderie with teammates and opponents and, yes, trying to win are the true rewards of sport and game. Win or lose. When that’s not enough, we have truly lost.”
Comment: The most joyful UK season in the last 35 years has to be 1989-90. There were absolutely no expectations in the wake of NCAA penalties and a mass exodus of coaches and players. Iconic radio play-by-play announcer Cawood Ledford spoke of UK winning no more than six or seven games.
Kentucky won 14 as fans thrilled to the three-point shooting and full-court pressing of Rick Pitino’s Bombinos. The season was marked by something much more precious than national championships and first-round draft picks: hope.
Best and worst
To try to determine the best and worst places for basketball fans, WalletHub compared 297 of the largest cities in the nation. Comparisons were made in such categories as how well the NBA and Division I teams performed, ticket prices and stadium accessibility.
The top five cities: Los Angeles, Boston, San Antonio, Salt Lake City and Oakland,
The bottom five cities: Clinton, S.C.; Hackensack, N.J.; Grambling, La.; Riverside, Calif.; and New Britain, Conn.
WalletHub ranked Lexington No. 34. That might literally be a sobering ranking. Lexington-Fayette County ranked 261st for “Cost & Fan Engagement,” which is a key component. Due mostly to its low number of sports bars: 4.9 for every 100,000 residents.
Among other findings:
New York had the highest average ticket price for an NBA game ($98) and New Orleans the lowest ($30).
Morgantown, W.Va., has the most sports bars per 100,000 residents. The city with the fewest sports bars per 100,000 residents is Provo, Utah.
To Keith Bogans. He turned 36 on Thursday. … To Kevin Grevey. He turned 63 on Thursday. … To Merion Haskins. He turned 61 on Friday. … To Buzz Peterson. The former Tennessee coach turns 53 on Tuesday. … To Ron Mercer. He turns 40 on Wednesday.