On the day before the NCAA Tournament South Regional semifinals, former South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn chatted court-side with Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. The chance meeting ignited Internet postings speculating on what was said and how any information Horn gained could be used against UK.
Horn, who attended the South Regional as a guest of Indiana Coach Tom Crean, smiled at the perceived intrigue.
"I'm not offering anything they don't already know," Horn said of the Indiana coaches. Crean, his boss at Marquette and earlier an assistant at Western Kentucky when Horn played for the Hilltoppers, invited Horn to hang around as a friend, not as an informant.
"It turns into whatever," Horn said of the wireless world. "That really changed things. You've got to understand that's what we're dealing with now."
Horn, who played at Tates Creek High, saluted UK Coach John Calipari and Crean as role models for how to run high-profile programs in an age of 24/7, uh, communication.
"Two of the best guys in the country," he said. "They're the total package in understanding what the deal's about. Recruiting. Coaching. Marketing. Media. Both see it and understand it. And they're willing to, and have the ability to, deal with it, and do it well."
Horn, 39, hit a bump in the road in his coaching career at South Carolina. In four seasons, he compiled a 60-63 record, 23-41 in the Southeastern Conference.
Having labored for a South Carolina program that hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973, Horn plans to be careful about where he resumes his coaching career.
"Obviously, I want to coach," he said. "I still have a passion for it. At the same time, I want to make sure another situation is one that is a really good situation in terms of opportunity to win."
Horn said he'll weigh a program's history of success and tradition, and whether there's a potential fan following that can be whipped into a recruiting asset.
No coaching jobs are easy, he said. All involve challenges. But, it's no coincidence that this year's NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round featured schools strongly identified with college basketball: Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Michigan State, Marquette, Syracuse, Ohio State, Kansas, Florida ...
"A little bit of a Who's Who," Horn said.
John Calipari calls it "The Kentucky Effect." Rick Stansbury called it unfair.
Unlike his colleagues, Stansbury didn't just take it. Nor did he complain privately or drop a — wink, wink — coy hint at the double standard he perceived. He saw the SEC treating Kentucky more favorably than his Mississippi State team, and said so. Of course, he paid a $30,000 fine for the privilege of speaking his mind.
So Stansbury, whom State encouraged to retire on March 14 after 14 seasons as coach, became known in his native state of Kentucky as a whiner.
But maybe he wasn't whining. Maybe he was competing.
His longtime assistant, Phil Cunningham, credited Stansbury with bringing a can-do spirit to a long-dormant Mississippi State basketball program. His recruiting as an assistant coach sparked NCAA Tournament teams in 1995 and 1996, the latter reaching the Final Four.
"His attitude and work ethic were so much behind that," Cunningham said. "He did what no one thought could be done. He thought Mississippi State could stay relevant on a national level and fight Kentucky and Florida."
In 14 seasons as head coach, Stansbury guided the Bulldogs to six NCAA Tournaments. So he contributed to eight of State's 10 NCAA Tournament appearances. There were also four NIT appearances and a seat reserved annually on the metaphorical Selection Sunday bubble.
"What school outside Kentucky and Florida would complain about that kind of run?" Cunningham said. "So much of the credit should go to that vision and attitude. One of his greatest strengths was hard-headedness."
Perhaps that stubborn streak made it impossible for Stansbury to quietly accept what happened in so many recent games against Kentucky. Two seasons ago, State led by seven with three minutes to go. After that there were 10 fouls on State and none on Kentucky. A year later, there was a technical foul for reacting to a shooting foul near mid-court. But the killer came in the final seconds of the 2010 SEC Tournament finals when the referees failed to call a lane violation on an intentionally missed free throw, thus enabling UK to score the tying basket and rally to an overtime victory.
Gone went State's NCAA Tournament chances.
"That was the one that I don't think we'll ever get over," Cunningham said.
For not quietly accepting what came as contributing to the greater good (i.e, UK), Stansbury became something of a villain in Kentucky. "I hate to see that," said Cunningham, who grew up in Campbellsville.
"I would hope the folks in Kentucky appreciate him being from Kentucky (Battletown) and how much that had to do with his competitive spirit."
The most painful loss of this year's NCAA Tournament surely came in the First Four. Mississippi Valley State led Western Kentucky by 16 points with barely five minutes remaining.
Then Western rallied to win 59-58. This denied Mississippi Valley State's coach, ex-UK point guard Sean Woods, a chance to compete against his alma mater in the second round. It also sent Woods into basketball exile.
"I got away from it," he said when asked if he'd watched any ensuing NCAA Tournament games. "I didn't watch a game. I've looked at bits and pieces of the tournament. That's all."
Woods' voice took on a weary tone.
"I'm doing all right," he said with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. "I've still got a bad taste in my mouth in how it ended."
Then trying to keep the loss in perspective, he added, "We still had a great run. We did some good things, getting to the NCAA Tournament."
Mississippi Valley State, a program not known for abundant resources nor tradition, must now rebuild.
"Not rebuild," Woods said. "Reload. We've got to keep this thing going."
Lexington-based psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott could not cite a specific study, but he applauded UK Coach John Calipari linking revenge with fear (i.e. if attempts at revenge appear to be failing, fear can set in).
"I thought this guy's a genius to understand stuff like that," Elliott said. "... I do know the effect fear has on a person can significantly (adversely) affect performance."
Hence, Calipari cautioned his team against using revenge as a motive against Indiana on Friday.
Richard Smith, a professor in UK's Department of Psychology, has a Ph.d from the University of North Carolina. From that vantage point, he could offer an opinion on UK and Duke fans.
"In a general sense, there's a little bit of snobbery," he said of Duke fans. "That Kentucky takes it too seriously. Dukies feel they have other things that they can latch on to."
Revenge is sweet
Former UK star Kevin Grevey acknowledged how he and his teammates thirsted for revenge against Indiana in the 1975 NCAA Tournament.
Not only did Indiana beat Kentucky 98-74 in the regular season. "How it went down" angered UK, Grevey said.
"We had to get our respect."
The Cats recognized Indiana's talent as players and Bob Knight's abilities as a coach. But Knight famously cuffing UK Coach Joe B. Hall about the head did not please UK players.
"He punked Coach Hall," Grevey said. "We just thought, even back then, he was crude and a bully."
IU's cynical use of moving picks also displeased the Cats.
"Our mind-set was if we ever see those guys again, they're going to get a piece of us," Grevey said.
Of course, Kentucky beat Indiana 92-90 in the Mideast Regional finals.
Revenge was sweet.
"The feeling of ecstasy after beating Indiana was a feeling I don't think I ever felt in my life," Grevey said. "I couldn't believe what was rushing through my body."
Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of Duke's 104-103 overtime victory over Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional finals. As if any UK fans need reminding, that's the game Christian Laettner won with a jumper at the buzzer.
Jeff Sheppard offered an interesting thought on Laettner's enduring villainy.
"A lot of Kentucky fans can't let go," he said. "I don't think Kentucky fans want to be over that. It's part of our history. It's part of Kentucky basketball. Kentucky fans will hold that game against (Duke) forever."
Not a coincidence
When it was noted that Iowa State missed three-point shots last weekend it could be expected to make on another day, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said, "Yeah? On another day they weren't guarded by Kentucky.
"The toughest thing for a shooter to deal with is length and athleticism."
Of course, Kentucky has plenty of both.
"Iowa State did get some open shots, but they also got some open shots that closed off pretty quick," Bilas said. "You tend to rush some of them."
For perimeter shooters, misses and makes can come in bunches.
"Things snowball both ways," Bilas said. "I don't think it was coincidence they shot three of 22 against Kentucky."
North Carolina has many standout players, but only one Kendall Marshall. So the impact of Marshall's broken wrist cannot be minimized.
"Devastating," Dick Vitale said. "I must have said it 20 times during the year. He's one guy they cannot afford to lose under any circumstances. North Carolina's indispensable player is Marshall."
With only two losses, Kentucky might seem bound for a national championship. The same could be said of Syracuse.
But in the March edition of Basketball Times, Jim Sukup crunched the numbers and found no link between near-perfect regular-season records and nation championships.
Sukup listed 39 teams with two or fewer losses since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Of those teams, four won national championships: Duke (28-2) in 1992, UCLA (25-2) in 1995, Kentucky (28-2) in 1996 and Connecticut (28-2) in 1999.
This year Kentucky (32-2) and Syracuse (31-2) became the 40th and 41st teams to lose two or fewer games entering the NCAA Tournament.
Since 1999, 13 teams entered the NCAA Tournament with two or fewer losses. All fell short of the ultimate goal. Kentucky's 2010 team was one of those.
The only unbeaten team entering the NCAA Tournament since 1985 — UNLV in 1991 — lost in the national semifinals.
An auction to benefit Lexington's Living Arts & Science Center began Saturday.
Among the items up for auction are:
■ A basketball former UK Coach Joe B. Hall gave to Gloria Singletary, who donated it to the Living Arts & Science Center. Among those who autographed the ball are Dan Issel, Louie Dampier, Kenny Walker, Cliff Hagan, Sam Bowie, Kyle Macy, Cotton Nash, Billy Gillispie and Hall.
■ A commemorative Maker's Mark bottle dedicated to UK's 1996 national championship team.
■ A printing plate of The Herald-Leader Page One on March 30, 1998. UK won the 1998 national championship the night before.
■ Two basketballs autographed by UK Coach John Calipari.
The auction, which is on eBay, ends April 3.
To four former UK players. To Mike Phillips. He turned 56 on Saturday. ... To Charles Hurt. He turns 51 on Wednesday. ... To Saul Smith. He turns 33 on Wednesday. ... To Todd Bearup. He turns 45 on Wednesday.