Sports

Black coaches rejoice over Obama

African-American coaches applauded the election of Barack Obama. Georgia Coach Dennis Felton went so far as to call himself a "kindred spirit" of Obama.

That sounded like hyperbole until Felton noted how much he shares in common with the president-elect.

Both had biological fathers from Kenya who played no significant role in their upbringing. Both had white mothers.

Both parents met while attending college, Obama's parents at the University of Hawaii and Felton's at a school in Uganda.

Both traveled the world as children. Felton was adopted at birth by a childless couple. The husband was a career Air Force man.

There are differences. Adoption saved Felton's life. Noting how a biracial child was "a tricky proposition" in 1963, Felton said his mother considered an abortion.

"Got as close as sitting in the doctor's lobby," he said. "Till she got too scared."

Fast forward 45 years, and a biracial man has been elected president.

"I always thought it was inevitable," Felton said. "You have extremely bright, talented people all over the place. They come in all different shapes, colors, sizes and backgrounds. In this country, and increasingly so, the best people rise to the top. I always thought it was inevitable that someone other than a lighter shaded male would be president of the United States."

LSU's new coach, Trent Johnson, acknowledged a sense of pride in a fellow African-American being elected president. But for Johnson, that historic moment was not paramount.

"Most importantly, we want someone running the country who is most qualified," he said.

The voters designated Obama as most qualified. "I think that speaks volumes," Johnson said. "I was raised to think your level of education and body of work, regardless of color, is going to separate you and give you opportunity."

Boston College Coach Al Skinner also saw Obama as the best qualified candidate. For him, the election sent a profound message to the world. "America is the land of hope and freedom," he said.

His sense that the world received that message, not the scene at Chicago's Grant Park on election night, brought tears to Skinner's eyes.

The cheering around the world confirmed that "yes, we are what we say we are," Skinner said, "and what our forefathers wanted us to be."

Minnesota Coach Tubby Smith understands what it's like to be the first African-American in a high-profile position. He was Kentucky basketball's coach from 1997 to 2007. He said the historical implications give way to the task at hand.

"You have a job to do," said Smith, who was in Lexington for a charity function on Friday. "You certainly appreciate your race, your culture, your heritage. But you also understand you're the leader of the free world. A lot of people are counting on you."

Obama faces a daunting set of challenges, domestic and international. Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt saw the president-elect as a man who has the wherewithal to take on those challenges.

"As a close watcher of politics, I find the best elected officials are ones who can inspire people," he said. "There's no question this man can inspire."

Hewitt, who considers politics an escape from the demands of coaching, or as he put it, "a nice thing to kind of get lost in," saw a need to improve other areas of society. For instance, education could be upgraded.

"Other areas are in need of their Barack Obama moment," he said.

His campaign made no secret that Obama wants his moment to include higher taxes for people making more than $250,000 a year. Of course, that will include the coaches moved by Obama's election.

When asked his reaction to paying higher taxes, Skinner chuckled and said:

"I haven't gotten as far as I've gotten without the assistance of others. So that means if I have to give back a little bit more to help others, that's fine. It's been done for me. How can I not turn around to offer that to someone else?"

Literary corner

Another pre-season guide arrived in the mail last week. Consider it the thinking man's look at the 2008-09 season.

Co-authors Ken Pomeroy and John Gasaway not only explore teams in the major conferences, but they also look at trends, write essays and crunch numbers.

An article in last Sunday's New York Times described the book as "unapologetically geeky."

In a telephone interview, Gasaway had a kinder description. "Ken and I kind of wrote the book we'd like to read as college basketball fans," he said.

Pomeroy is a known name. He's a statistical guru cited frequently by news outlets and fans. His "real" job is a weatherman in Salt Lake City. That's a bit unfair. He's a meteorologist for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

"He's trying to develop models for weather," Gasaway said. "So it's not too much of a jump to do that for basketball."

Which raises a question: What's easier to predict, the weather or college basketball?

"Oh, definitely the weather," Gasaway said in speaking for his co-author. "George Mason beating Connecticut, that'd be like a hurricane hitting Wichita."

As for the book, titled College Basketball Prospectus 2008-2009," Pomeroy and Gasaway tackle such subjects as the one-and-done player, the longer three-point shot and conventional wisdom (is it really worthwhile to call a timeout to "freeze" a free-throw shooter?).

"We tried to build on what's already out there," Gasaway said. "Add prospectus and new analysis."

Gasaway and Pomeroy are on a book tour that included stops at DePaul Thursday and Duke Saturday.

The authors will be signing books in Lexington on Sunday (2 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers).

Transfer statistics

Presumably, Kentucky gathers information on a possible appeal on behalf of Matt Pilgrim. UK and Pilgrim are exploring the possibility of asking the NCAA to waive the requirement that a transfer sit out a season.

Statistics suggest Kentucky has a reasonable chance of winning such a waiver.

Here are some statistics to ponder:

■ From June 1, 2007 to May 31, 2008, the NCAA staff considered 93 requests for a waiver. Of those requests, 55 were granted.

The requests included 10 in men's basketball. Six were granted.

■ From June 1, 2008 to Oct. 21, 2008, the NCAA staff considered 50 requests for a waiver. Nine of the 50 are still being considered.

Of the 41 decided, 21 were granted. Four of nine involving men's basketball players were granted.

Reasons for granting a waiver usually involve circumstances beyond an athlete's control such as injury or illness that necessitates a transfer, financial hardship in the family, documented misinformation provided by the first school or hostile/unsafe environment (read sexual harassment or abuse).

Reasons that don't lead to waiver include ignorance of the sit-out rule or transfer based on athletic reasons.

Scrimmage or exhibition

College coaches have a choice to make every pre-season: Play public exhibitions against overmatched opponents or face Division I opponents in secret scrimmages.

Don't tell anyone, but Vanderbilt played at North Carolina. Keep this quiet, but Georgia played Clemson.

Georgia Coach Dennis Felton noted how NCAA rules prohibited him from talking publicly about the scrimmage. But, he added, he was free to discuss the benefits of a public exhibition and private scrimmage.

The exhibition gives the players a taste of regular-season hoopla. The scrimmage provides top-level competition.

Georgia had one of each this pre-season.

Felton noted how he wanted to bring one of his first Georgia teams to Kentucky Wesleyan for an exhibition. He saw it as a "powerful win-win for everyone." Georgia got to experience a road atmosphere, and Wesleyan got a good gate.

But the NCAA said no. Of how the Lord and the NCAA work in mysterious ways, Felton said, "A Division II school can come to us but not us to them."

'Deep into March'

UK impressed Ouachita Baptist Coach Charlie Schaef on Friday night.

"This team that they have, you are going to see deep into March Madness," he said. "They are good, long and athletic."

Schaef said that UK had improved from the Blue-White scrimmage to the exhibition against Missouri-St. Louis and then again against his team.

"If they keep taking those progressions, they are going to be unbelievable come January and February."

Numbers to crunch

Programs typically find an advantageous time period to frame statistics. Florida offered a reasonable time period: this decade.

So beginning with the 1999-2000 season, the Gators have won 236 games. That ties for third with Gonzaga for most victories this decade.

Duke leads the way with 261. Kansas is second at 253. Illinois rounds out the top five with 228 victories.

Kentucky? The Cats have won 218 games (or an average of 24.2 a season).

Ex files

Two ex-Kentucky teammates coached against each other in Arkansas' 108-80 exhibition victory over Dillard last week.

Of course, John Pelphrey coached Arkansas and Dale Brown coached Dillard.

"I'd like to encourage Dale," Pelphrey said after the game. "This is his first year there, and he's going to do a great job. He was a really good player and a big part of what happened for us my senior year."

Brown played with Pelphrey in the 1992 Christian Laettner game.

"It was good playing against him," Brown said. "I appreciate the opportunity he gave us. A small program such as Dillard, he gave us the opportunity to come (to Arkansas) and get some exposure."

Although Arkansas is considered a bottom feeder this season, Brown suggested the Hogs can surprise.

"I like the way they got after it," he said. "They really hustle. They have a chance to do well. I love their guard rotation. They played hard together, and they do a good job of playing inside-out."

Around the SEC

Jai Lucas deciding to transfer will mean Florida has had nine transfers since 2003-04. In that same span, Kentucky has had seven transfers. They are Bernard Cote (Northwestern), Rekalin Sims (Fresno State), Adam Williams (Marshall), Shagari Alleyne (Manhattan), Derrick Jasper (UNLV), Alex Legion (Illinois) and Morakinyo Williams (Duquesne).

■ Auburn's dangerous three-point shooting may be scarier with the addition of junior college transfer Tay Waller. He scored a game-high 27 points in only 21 minutes in Auburn's 98-50 exhibition victory over Morehouse on Friday. Waller was 7-for-12 from three-point range.

"We shot the ball pretty well from three," Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said of the team's 15-for-33 accuracy from beyond the arc. "And Tay is going to make our percentage a lot better."

■ The loss of sophomore guard Trevor Gaskins (ACL surgery) for the season hurts Ole Miss. He made 46 three-pointers last season although he missed a potential game-winner at UK.

The Rebels have a deep returning backcourt that Blue Ribbon Yearbook called the league's best. Veteran guards — juniors Eniel Polynice and David Huertas, plus sophomores Chris Warren and Zach Graham — will lead the Rebels into Friday's season opener versus Arkansas State.

20 grand

Had it been a regular-season game, Perry Stevenson's 20 rebounds against Ouachita Baptist would have tied the Rupp Arena record.

The record of 20 rebounds is shared by Chris Mills (against Miami, Ohio, on Dec. 17, 1988) and Jared Prickett (against Arkansas on Feb. 9, 1994).

Happy birthday

To walk-on Dwight Perry. He turns 21 today.

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