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Opinions from all over the SEC

The Southeastern Conference names its Player of the Year this week. More than any season in memory, there are multiple candidates and valid arguments to be made for each.

Here's a sampling of opinion gathered early last week from media people in the Southeast who vote on The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

John L. Pitts, sports editor, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal:

"The argument for me comes down to a pair of LSU players, Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell.

"Kentucky's Jodie Meeks has one of the two signature individual efforts in the league this season, the 54 in Knoxville. But I can't make much of his numbers in the six losses since then. If he breaks out in a couple of those, the conversation for Kentucky is very different heading into next week's tournament."

(Pitts noted Nick Calathes of Florida and Devan Downey of South Carolina as prime candidates.)

"So, Thornton or Mitchell?

"Mitchell had the league's other signature game — 41 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in two overtimes at Mississippi State. And no turnovers in 49 minutes, that's the thing I keep lingering over. ...

"Thornton just keeps putting together good games, and it appears he tried to rise to the occasion in the losses — 30 against Xavier.

"That 13-1 league mark gets a vote, too.

"Steady wins the race, I suppose."

Dan Wolken, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis:

"I tend to gravitate toward the most significant player on the top team or teams. My sense is that Devan Downey probably means as much to the success South Carolina has had this season as any one player in the league.

"You also have to look at Tasmin Mitchell for being 8th in the league in scoring, 9th in rebounding, 4th in field goal percentage and 6th in steals.

"Having said that, I'd have no problem voting for Jodie Meeks, even though Kentucky is not among the top two teams in the league. I see Kentucky as a team with major holes in terms of experienced talent. The fact that Kentucky is even in position for an NCAA bid is a testament to the numbers he's put up.

"I'd probably go with Downey by a hair over Meeks, simply because of how he affects the game as a point guard and the success South Carolina has had."

Iliana Limon, Orlando Sentinel:

"Kentucky's Jodie Meeks should be named the SEC Player of the Year. He has proven to be a prolific scorer, clutch free-throw shooter and all-around great playmaker who has logged a ton of minutes. He has dominated games, but he also has elevated the play of his teammates.

"Florida's Nick Calathes is a very close second. ... Calathes has been really impressive. But I think Meeks settled the debate when he hit a game-winning 24-footer in Calathes face for Kentucky's 68-65 win over Florida in Lexington."

Joshua Parrott, The Daily Advertiser (Louisiana):

"My pick: Thornton. Meeks is the sexy pick because of his big scoring nights on ESPN, but Thornton is a better all-around player and contributor. Thornton scores, rebounds, defends and gets his teammates involved. LSU's 13-1 mark in league play is the best in the SEC since Kentucky went 16-0 in 2003. Thornton has always been able to score, but now he is a complete player.

"I'd follow with Meeks, Downey and Patterson. I think Meeks or Patterson would be the favorites if Kentucky was winning more and LSU was winning less."

Ron Morris, The State (South Carolina):

"I might be one of the few who believe it is a three-horse race: Calathes, Downey, Meeks. I also believe the Player of the Year should be someone who plays on a championship (even division) team. So, I would vote for the player among those three who wins the division.

"Now, if Tennessee wins the division, I would go with Meeks. Downey is more spectacular than the other two, but that has mostly to do with his size. Meeks is just the best player of the three, although Calathes has the best overall numbers of the three. Close call, no doubt."

Will Vandervort, Daily Journal (South Carolina):

"Devan Downey from South Carolina would be my choice. South Carolina is not leading the East without him. I have seen him play several times the last couple of years, and he is by far the best point guard in the country. He is better than UNC's Ty Lawson."

Randy Rosetta, The Advocate, Baton Rouge:

"My vote would go to Marcus Thornton with Tasmin Mitchell a very close second simply because of what they have both meant to the league's clear-cut best team. Great season for Meeks, but the team results don't coincide."

Remembering Lake

Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury remembered Lake Kelly as generous, well-versed in coaching and ceaselessly interested in learning more about basketball.

"One of the best coaches in America," Stansbury said of Kelly, who died last week. "And I mean that sincerely. He was one of the best X-and-O guys, defensive guys and, most importantly, one of the better psychology guys I've ever been around."

Kelly gave Stansbury his first full-time coaching job, hiring him as an assistant at Austin Peay in 1985.

"He was a father," Stansbury said. "Most head coaches and assistant coaches, in the off-season you kind of go your separate ways. Lake Kelly and I spent every minute together, to a fault, probably."

Stansbury regularly ate meals at Kelly's home. They golfed and fished together.

When Mississippi State won at UK in February, Stansbury walked into the post-game interview area, then went to Kelly and gave him a hug before returning to the podium to begin the news conference.

"It was shocking to me," Stansbury said of Kelly's death. "Absolutely shocking. It's hard to accept."

Starting

The next time you dwell on the starting lineup, think of Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo.

Last week he noted how unimportant starting the game can be. As an assistant coach at East Tennessee State in the early 1990s, Lebo watched an all-conference player, Rodney English, average more than 30 minutes off the bench. He'd replace the nominal starter sometime in the first 10 minutes.

Why did East Tennessee not start one of its best players?

"Because the all-conference guy was probably better off the bench," Lebo said. "He felt more comfortable."

Congratulations

To Lexington's John Peterman for his upcoming induction into the Holy Cross Athletic Hall of Fame. That's the John Peterman as in the Mr. Peterman character on the TV show Seinfeld.

Peterman, who grew up in West Nyack, N.Y. (about halfway between New York City and West Point), played baseball for Holy Cross. He led the Crusaders to two appearances in the College World Series.

His friend Cotton Nash, the former UK All-American, called to let us know about the formal induction on May 2. Nash, who also played baseball for UK, later coached a Babe Ruth team and had Peterman as an assistant.

As for Seinfeld, Peterman became friends with actor John O'Hurley, who played him. O'Hurley has invested in The J. Peterman Company.

Peterman will join such stars as Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn as Holy Cross Hall of Famers. "That feels pretty good," he said.

Congratulations II

Former UK reserve Adam Williams was one of five players named to the Conference USA men's basketball All-Academic team.

Williams, who transferred to Marshall after his freshman season, has a 3.16 grade-point average and is on schedule to graduate this year with a degree in marketing.

Don't give up ...

This season's Mississippi team has been named one of 12 finalists for the ninth annual V Foundation Comeback Award. The winner will be announced during Final Four weekend.

The Rebels have competed well despite losing junior guard Eniel Polynice (cartilage damage in knee) and two All-SEC freshman picks from last season (Trevor Gaskins, ACL tear, and Chris Warren, ACL tear) since the early part of the season. Ole Miss also had to overcome nagging injuries to guards Zach Graham (partially torn patella tendon), Terrico White (bone bruise in knee) and David Huertas (bone bruise in foot).

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy, who started his college career playing for Jim Valvano at N.C. State, said his team epitomized Valvano's don't-ever-give-up spirit.

Million-dollar question

Activist Ken Krayeske stirred the pot by asking Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun to justify a $1.6 million salary while his state had a billion-dollar deficit.

Here's syndicated columnist Norman Chad's take:

"Calhoun should be sensitive to the fact that many of his fellow state workers are suffering cutbacks. The coach interrupted his inquisitor, saying: 'Not a dime back.' Not a dime back? Who's advising him, Marie Antoinette? Workers earning far fewer dimes in Connecticut will be forced to make concessions, but the state's highest-profile and highest-paid employee says NOT A DIME BACK? Ouch. ...

"Where does education fit into all this? It never has. UConn — like many institutions of higher earning — brings in 18-year-olds to sell tickets and TV rights. In return, the athletes get a scholarship to a university where they scarcely attend classes. This is known as March Madness, or as I like to call it, Societal Insanity.

"Academics, as always, is incidental. Or as Calhoun put it in response to one of Krayeske's questions, 'What was the take tonight?'"

Attendance figures

This season proved again how fans at Kentucky and Arkansas love basketball.

Although UK lost six home games for only the second time since 1927, home attendance increased from last season. The Cats averaged 23,012 fans per home game this season. That's up from the average of 22,554 last season. The Cats finished the home schedule with a 12-6 record (4-4 against SEC teams).

Arkansas went 12-6 at Bud Walton Arena this season. That included 2-6 in SEC games, after going 15-1 and 7-1 last season in Coach John Pelphrey's debut.

The paid average attendance for 18 home games this season was 16,043.

"I thought the fans were unbelievable," Pelphrey said. "I thought that the support of the Razorbacks this year was as impressive as my first year when we only lost one game.

"I am very, very humbled by these people and their passion for basketball."

Naismith ballot

It's voting time. So when my ballot arrived for the Naismith Trophy, here's who I voted for:

Player of the Year (in alphabetical order): Stephen Curry, Davidson; Blake Griffin, Oklahoma; Ty Lawson, North Carolina; Jodie Meeks, Kentucky.

(Apologies to DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh; Nick Calathes, Florida; Devan Downey, South Carolina; Luke Harangody, Notre Dame; Jack McClinton, Miami; Marcus Thornton, LSU.)

Coach of the Year (in order of preference): 1. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh; 2. Jeff Capel, Oklahoma; 3. Bill Self, Kansas.

Happy birthday

To Rashaad Carruth. He turns 27 on Thursday.

Carruth's AAU coach, Linzy Davis, said that the former UK guard divides the year between playing in Belgium and in the United States.

Carruth, briefly the darling of UK fans because he could shoot (does it take more than that?), has a son, Andre. Carruth left after one turbulent season capped by a one-game refusal to shoot as a protest about playing time.

Davis, who doesn't talk to Carruth often anymore, may have another star prospect or two on UK's radar some day.

The AAU coach noted Joseph Uchebo, a 6-11 native of Nigeria that he likened to a cross between Tracy McGrady and Magic Johnson. He's a freshman.

Davis also mentioned freshmen 6-9 Robert Ojeah (also from Nigeria) and Willie Clayton, a 6-7 wing from Thomasville, Ga.

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