Sports

Insights from Haskins interview worth revisiting

The death of Don Haskins this month prompted a search to find an interview from last fall.

Haskins had befriended the new coach when UTEP hired Billy Gillispie in 2002. So Haskins seemed like a good person to talk to when Kentucky made Gillispie its new coach.

Given Haskins' nickname (the Bear) and his courtside demeanor (no-nonsense), the nervous system shifted into full alert when he answered the phone.

Either it was a good day or age had a mellowing effect or Haskins was a nicer guy than his reputation suggested. Or all of the above.

He fielded all questions in a friendly, conversational manner. In fact, he was so friendly the conversation drifted to other subjects.

Highlights included:

■ Haskins scoffing at the notion that in the 1966 national championship game he intended to play only black players against all-white Kentucky in order to disprove racial stereotypes of the time. What passed for conventional wisdom said that black players would need direction from a white teammate to succeed.

The movie Glory Road, which dramatized Texas Western's rise to a national championship, included a scene in which Haskins told his players before the game that he'd use the game to make a larger, more important point.

"You know that's (B.S.)," Haskins said. "I was just trying to win the game."

Three weeks after the game, a friend asked if Haskins was aware that he played only his seven black players against Kentucky.

"It hadn't dawned on me," Haskins said. "Jerry Armstrong (a white player who generally played for Texas Western) wasn't quick enough to guard Pat Riley."

■ Haskins taking a philosophical attitude toward the condescending attitude of UK Coach Adolph Rupp after the game.

"The Kentucky players were very gracious," Haskins said. "Mr. Rupp wasn't very gracious.

"I say, when in hell was I very gracious when I got beat? That just goes with the territory."

■ Haskins weighing in on the Billy Donovan-or-Billy Gillispie debate that spiced UK's search for a coach to follow Tubby Smith. Donovan's popularity, fueled by his past association with UK and his eye-catching success at Florida, made him the object of fan desire.

"I don't know how good a coach Billy Donovan is," Haskins said before adding, "I'd lay my money on Gillispie. I think you came up with the best man of all."

Midnight ingenuity

Moving Big Blue Madness to Oct. 10 gave UK two advantages: exclusivity on basketball extravaganzas that weekend and the chance to make a first impression on prospects.

Other schools doing Madness will celebrate on Oct. 17, the first day the NCAA permits team practices.

Wily Kentucky found a way to circumvent the rule. Since the NCAA allows two hours of on-court team activity per week this time of year, UK will store its two hours that week and use them for Madness on Oct. 10.

So any prospect can be free to attend UK's Madness without having to miss another celebration.

"Very smart way they're doing it," said Rob Fulford, the coach at Mountain State Academy. "It gives them a great jump-start on everyone."

Of course, one of Fulford's players, Turkish native Deniz Kilicli, plans to attend UK's Madness.

Kilicli (pronounced Kah-lick-lee) will join such prospects as Adreian Payne, Russell Byrd and Daniel Orton at UK's Madness.

Taking attendance

Of the prospects who earlier committed to UK, at least two plan to come from out of state to attend Madness. The two are Dominique Ferguson, a top-five national prospect from Indianapolis, and point guard prospect G.J. Vilarino from McKinney, Texas.

"I'm looking forward to it a lot," said Ferguson, who is in the high school Class of 2010. "I'm really excited. The only Midnight Madness I've been to was IU's (Indiana University's). I expect Kentucky's to be a lot better."

Vilarino is in the high school Class of 2009. His father, Gerry, said that Madness will be part of an official visit weekend that will include the football game against Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina.

As for no-shows, apparently K.C. Ross-Miller (Class of 2010) of Dallas will not be able to attend. That was the understanding of fellow Texan Gerry Vilarino.

Michael Avery, who made headlines by committing to UK as an eighth-grader, will not attend Big Blue Madness. His father, Howard Avery, cited the difficulty in traveling from the Los Angeles area and the greater priority in his son adjusting to high school life as a ninth-grader.

Another prospect on UK's radar, Jeremiah Davis of Muncie, Ind., was weighing an invitation to attend Big Blue Madness. "Family issues" made it unclear if Davis would attend, his father said.

Wall update

In case you missed it, highly regarded point guard prospect John Wall apparently has declared a moratorium on his recruitment. That would take the nation's best point guard prospect (according to veteran analyst Bob Gibbons) temporarily out of circulation.

An illness in the family added perspective to Wall's recruitment. His mother, Harriet Wall, was hospitalized on Aug. 28 because of a stroke. Shortly thereafter, Wall postponed a recruiting visit to Memphis scheduled for Sept. 12.

"I don't know if he's taking any of his visits," sportswriter Tim Stevens of the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer said on Friday. "His mother thinks the stroke may have been brought on by the pressure (of recruiting). I'm told he was just pulling back."

Wall, who plays for a school called Word of God in Raleigh, had also scheduled visits to Kansas (this weekend) and Oregon (Oct. 4). He was also expected to visit Baylor, but no date had been set.

It seems logical that Kentucky would want Wall to visit on its Big Blue Madness weekend (Oct. 10-12).

Meanwhile, the family medical crisis and interruption of Wall's recruitment fanned the flames of speculation. For instance, if last year's top point guard prospect, Brandon Jennings, bypassed college to play professionally in Europe, why wouldn't Wall (arguably a better player) explore the same option?

Validation for Vilarino

Playing basketball for Kentucky (like coaching for UK or covering the team) is not for the faint-hearted.

Guard G.J. Vilarino, who became the first prospect to commit to the Cats in the Billy Gillispie era, has been the subject of much is-he-good-enough speculation.

So he and his family had to like the high praise that came from ESPN.com. The Web site tabbed Vilarino as the second-best floor general among point guards in the Class of 2009.

The assessment by Paul Biancardi, a member of Rick Majerus' staff at St. Louis University last season and a well-established college assistant, included this:

"This left-handed point guard can do it all. In transition, he really pushes the ball and finishes with speed to the rim. He is always probing the defense and looking for ways to make something happen. Vilarino makes good decisions, and he shows excellent court vision. ... At this time, he is an average shooter. But with his outstanding work ethic and competitiveness, that will all change soon. The weight room is a must to enhance his overall defense and ability to score even more effectively in the lane. He cares about winning and it shows in his effort and his results."

This sounded sweet to a player whose abilities many analysts openly question.

After noting how his son had been "maligned by many people," Gerry Vilarino said he and the family appreciated positive feedback "from people who spent time watching him play."

Touché.

In any case, the elder Vilarino acknowledged how UK basketball can be, shall we say, character building. Criticism can come with the territory.

"He's a good kid," Gerry Vilarino said of his son. "He doesn't let it get him down. But I know it bothers him. It bothers his family. We think it's unfair ... .

"There's always a vocal minority. You have to deal with it. If you can't, you chose the wrong school."

LSU stages tryouts

LSU's first-year coach, Trent Johnson, held an open tryout for walk-ons on Wednesday.

The tryouts, which drew 22 aspiring players, took on special meaning given the impact of two recent LSU walk-ons: Brandon Landry and Jack Warner. They now co-own Walk-Ons Bistreaux and Bar, where LSU stages its coaches' radio call-in shows for football, baseball and basketball. Their restaurant also caters most LSU events and media gatherings.

Johnson held similar tryouts for walk-ons during previous coaching stops at Nevada and Stanford.

"Going back to Stanford, we would have four engineers and a doctor out there and none of them could play," Johnson said, "So I like the talent pool I'm looking at right here ...

"I have a firm philosophy that you are only as strong as your weakest link, and these young men that are selected are going to be a part of what I think will be a very special year."

LSU will celebrate the 100th anniversary of basketball this coming season.

Johnson has had good luck with walk-ons. Chris Bobel, LSU's director of basketball operations, was a walk-on at Stanford two years ago. Another walk-on, Kenny Brown, was named Stanford's Chevrolet Player of the Game in a 78-58 loss to Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That game was played in Rupp Arena.

No word yet on how many walk-ons will make the LSU team.

Gustav vs. Trent

LSU Coach Trent Johnson rode out Hurricane Gustav in his office at the LSU Athletic Administration Building.

"My wife came in for the football game (Aug. 30) and left (the next day), so I told her I was staying here because if it was my time to go I might as well be in the gym or in my office," Johnson told The Advocate, the newspaper in Baton Rouge. "I've been through earthquakes and brush fires but this was a different experience for me."

With campus and most of the city shut down, Johnson stuck around and lent a hand when the facilities and grounds staff cleaned up debris at Tiger Stadium.

"It was no big deal," he said. "They needed help and I went out and did what I could. What else was I going to do? Sit there and watch them?"

Recruiting ...

In case you missed it:

■ Ex-Cat Travis Ford has made recruiting waves since becoming Oklahoma State coach in the spring. He landed Duncanville (Texas) forward Roger Franklin, Scout.com first reported. Franklin, a 6-foot-5 player, also reported scholarship offers from Arizona, Michigan State and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State also got a commitment from Torin Walker, a 6-10 center from Columbus, Ga.

He had reported scholarship offers from Minnesota and Auburn, while also receiving interest from Kentucky and Georgia.

■ Point guard Eric Smith of Mullins, S.C., committed to South Carolina. He had made an unofficial visit to the school, Scout.com reported. Smith, who is a high school junior, also had a scholarship offer from Clemson.

Smith, who averaged 19 points and 7.6 assists last season, became new coach Darrin Horn's first commitment for the Class of 2010.

Happy birthday

To former UK forward Derrick Hord. He turned 48 on Friday.

"I quit counting at 36," said Hord, who expected to spend a portion of his birthday going to the Ryder Cup matches at Valhalla in Louisville.

After working 15 years in pharmaceutical sales, Hord felt the need for a career change. Central Baptist Hospital hired him as a doctor recruiter.

Hord learned a lot about recruiting as one of the nation's top prospects as a high school player in Bristol, Tenn.

When asked if there were similarities in recruiting for basketball players and doctors, Hord said, "In a weird kind of way, I think there is."

In both, the recruiter needs to be courteous, thoughtful and thorough, said Hord, who noted how then-UK assistant Leonard Hamilton even knew what church Hord attended.

Recruiting for doctors, as with players, involves a pecking order. "Cardiologists are like 7-footers," Hord said.

He and his wife, Lisa, have a daughter, Kaitlyn, 8.

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