Sports

Five Cats color their vote blue

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama offers change that Kentucky's basketball players believe in.

Of the UK players willing to share their political views, five of six said they supported Obama over Republican candidate John McCain. And the five voiced enthusiastic support.

"Definitely Obama," star big man Patrick Patterson said. "One of the reasons is I listened to one of Obama's speeches. He said McCain is behind pretty much 95 percent of what George Bush is doing. I'm pretty much zero percent behind George Bush."

Obama's call for a change from the policies of the Bush administration apparently connected with UK players.

"It's definitely time for a change in the White House," Patterson said. "It's been Republican, Republican, Republican. It's time for a Democrat. Especially since Obama is an African-American, it's definitely time for a change."

Jodie Meeks, who along with Patterson forms the foundation of UK's team, also noted the historic nature of Obama's candidacy.

"Oh, definitely," he said of Obama as the first African-American to gain a major party's nomination. "You always look at that. But I wouldn't just vote for him because of that. I like his ideas and what he's trying to do: Help the lower-class people. Take from the rich is not a bad thing."

Junior forward Perry Stevenson sounded almost stunned by the thought of an African-American as president.

"I take a lot of pride in it," Stevenson said. "It's definitely something to marvel at."

Marvel?

"Just something to idolize," he said.

Teammates A.J. Stewart and Ramon Harris also support Obama.

"I just think Obama is trying to make a change," Stewart said. "If McCain comes in, it'll probably be the same thing. We'll be complaining about the same stuff."

The thought of McCain continuing Bush's anti-abortion stance (or, if you prefer, pro-life stance), drew the support of Michael Porter, who said, "I'm definitely against abortion."

The UK players who declined to state a presidential preference were Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller, Donald Williams, DeAndre Liggins, Kevin Galloway and Jared Carter.

Gillispie salutes fans

Whenever someone outside Kentucky interviews a UK coach, it seems there's an inevitable question: How do you deal with the demands of unrealistic UK fans?

Last week's SEC Media Days were no exception. Someone asked Billy Gillispie about fans who do not think Kentucky should ever lose a game.

"I don't think we should lose either," the UK coach said. "I don't want to be at a place that wants to lose any games. I don't see Kentucky fans having anything but a positive effect on the team. If they were ever going to be really, really disappointed, they wouldn't have kept coming when we were 6-7 going into the conference (last season)."

Gillispie not only defended the rabid interest of UK fans, but saluted that kind of devotion.

"Passion is not bad," he said. "Passion, in my opinion, is what evokes greatness in anything whether it be entertainment, coaching, husband, father. Passion separates people."

State of the nation

In reviewing the state of the SEC, Commissioner Mike Slive noted that 159 current or former athletes from the conference won medals at the Bejing Olympics last summer.

"If we were a nation (chuckles from reporters), sometimes I think we are, we would have finished fourth in the world in the medal count," Slive said. "So it was a good summer."

Let's make a deal

SEC basketball coaches applauded the league's new 15-year deals with CBS and ESPN. The deals will bring the league an estimated $205 million annually starting in 2009-10.

Besides the increase in money (and the trickle-down effect of higher coaching salaries), the deals expand the number of games televised. Every conference game will be televised. The SEC will triple its weekly games on ESPN or ESPN2. ABC will nationally televise the SEC Tournament semifinals and finals.

So Commissioner Mike Slive noted that the deals help achieve his goal of bringing more exposure to SEC basketball.

South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn noted how the deal with ESPN provides a comeback to the accepted belief that the ACC is the best college league.

"Well, is it really?" Horn said. "Because . . . when your most powerful sports entity in the world decided they had to put their money behind something that's the best league, they picked us."

Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said the SEC asked for Jimmy Dykes, the former UK assistant, to work the studio for ESPN. Why? So Dykes can stand on the Dick Vitale soapbox.

"Who's going to be the next Dick Vitale," Pearl said. "(Jay) Bilas? (Doug) Gottlieb? They're not SEC guys."

UK Coach Billy Gillispie said the television deals give the league exposure "that's been always deserved."

Palming

Palming enters its senior year as a point of emphasis for officials. That is to say this will be the fourth straight year that referees are supposed to crack down on palming violations.

SEC Supervisor of Officials Gerald Boudreaux acknowledged that in the past referees called palming early each season. Then as the season continued, the referees called the violation less and less.

"We're going to have to do a better job in January and February," he said.

Toward that end, Boudreaux said that referees who do not consistently call palming throughout the season will be dropped from consideration for assignments in the Final Four.

How prevalent is palming? On the cover of South Carolina's media guide, there's a photo of guard Devan Downey dribbling with hand on the side of the basketball.

A reporter asked if Downey was palming the ball. "Yeah," Boudreaux said. "Big time."

Lute leaves

Lute Olson's abrupt retirement last week brought back memories of his brushes with UK basketball.

Twice, Olson was on the short list of candidates to become Kentucky coach.

In 1985, then UK Athletics Director Cliff Hagan had the advantage of the Final Four in Lexington.

"All the coaches were coming in town, which made it an ideal time to hire a coach," Hagan said. "You could talk to people without everyone knowing about it."

Hagan offered Olson the UK job.

"He was so successful," Hagan said last week. "His record and his presence and the way he handled himself. He had the stature we thought the job required."

But Olson did not snap up the job. UK hired Eddie Sutton.

"He just kept putting us off and delaying and delaying and delaying," Hagan said. "Finally he pulled out."

Four years later, Hagan's successor, C.M. Newton, put Olson on a short list that included Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Riley, P.J. Carlesimo and Rick Pitino.

"I never felt he would leave Arizona simply because of his family situation there," Newton said last week. "He had children there."

Newton met with Olson at the Final Four in Seattle. "Unless you really have a burning interest, let's not visit about it," Newton told Olson. It didn't take long for Olson to say he did not have a burning interest.

UK hired Pitino.

Newton and Hagan expressed surprise in Olson's retirement, especially the timing of the decision.

But, Newton added, "He's 74 years old. It's a young man's game."

Newton noted how recruiting tends to drop off as a coach ages. Rival recruiters put doubt in a prospect's head: How long will the old coach be at the school?

"When I turned 60, one of the first questions I heard on home visits was how long I'd be at the school," Newton said.

Dickie V, not Dookie V

Sports commentator Dick Vitale called. He wanted to protest — nicely — about something in the UK Notebook last Sunday.

Vitale didn't like a reference to his list of the top 50 players in college basketball since 1979. That list, along with the top 50 moments, are the basis for his new book, Dick Vitale's Fabulous 50 Players and Moments in College Basketball.

What Vitale didn't like was my mentioning that he picked eight players from Duke before getting to No. 48 Kenny Walker of UK. He said that fostered a misconception that he favors Duke.

Vitale noted that all eight players had been a National Player of the Year. "How do you keep them off?" he said. "Facts are facts."

Well, actually, Duke does not list Bobby Hurley among its National Player of the Year winners. But we'll give Vitale a pass on that. Hurley played point guard on two national championship teams.

"People don't want to hear honesty," Vitale said. "If I'm not fair to others, you question yourself. I'm always fair, so that doesn't bother me."

Vitale noted how commentators attract criticism. When he goes to North Carolina, fans complain about his on-air enthusiasm for Duke. When he goes to Duke, fans complain about his praise of North Carolina.

Of viewers, Vitale said, "They hear what they want to hear."

UK fans will hear Vitale on Nov. 18. He's working the UK-North Carolina game.

Prayerful consideration

Russell Byrd's father said the prospect would pray for guidance in making his college choice. We shared a light-hearted comment about God being a Kentucky fan.

After Byrd committed to Michigan State, his father said that he was not joking about giving the matter prayerful consideration.

"He told the coaches he was going to pray, and that's exactly what he did," said Kelly Byrd, a minister. "He believes the Lord is interested in his life."

Of the guidance received, Kelly Byrd said, "It doesn't come with writing in the sky. It's an internal subjective leaning sense you get. The sense he was getting was the Lord giving him peace with Michigan State."

Tennessee sells out

Tennessee put individual game tickets on sale recently. But no tickets were available for home games against Kentucky, Florida and Memphis. There were less than 1,000 available for games against Gonzaga, Vanderbilt and two other SEC games.

UT sold 16,600 season tickets, that's an increase of 600.

The Vols averaged 20,267 per home game in the newly renovated 21,678-seat Thompson-Boling arena last season. That ranked fourth in the nation.

Tennessee takes a 32-game home win streak into this season. That ranks as the third-longest active streak behind Brigham Young and Notre Dame.

Since becoming Tennessee coach three years ago, Bruce Pearl has a 45-2 record in Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I couldn't tell you how many games we've won, but I can tell you the two teams we've lost to: Arkansas and Kentucky," Pearl said. "I'm actually more proud of the road record. Road wins are sweet. They're hard to come by. They are the separators."

Tennessee had a 12-3 regular-season record away from Knoxville last season. In Pearl's three seasons, the Vols have a 26-16 road record.

Happy birthday

To Dan Issel. UK basketball's career scoring leader turned 60 on Saturday.

"I don't know if it's a happy birthday," Issel said with a laugh on Friday, "because when you're young, 60 is ancient."

Issel and his wife, Cheri, have two grandchildren, Benjamin, 5, and Addison, 3. A third grandchild is on the way.

Issel, who lives in Denver, last visited Kentucky to watch the Ryder Cup. During that visit, he went to a UK practice.

"I think Billy's going to surprise some people this year ... ," he said of UK Coach Billy Gillispie. "Billy reminds me of Coach (Adolph) Rupp. He doesn't let the guys take any shortcuts in practice. That's the way Coach Rupp was: always trying for perfection. I really think he's the right man for the job."

Issel had a fun birthday planned. He and Cheri were in Las Vegas, where they planned to watch the Breeders' Cup races on television, and then attend a Jimmy Buffett concert.

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