Sports

Harrellson familiar with Heels' big man

If — and it's a big if given his health — North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough schools Kentucky's Josh Harrellson on Tuesday night, it won't be the first time.

The two crossed paths as Missouri high school players. Even though Harrellson merely watched from the stands, there was a mentor/pupil encounter with Hansbrough delivering the lessons.

His coach at St. Charles (Mo.) High School, Gary Wacker, took Harrellson to the state tournament just to see Hansbrough play.

"Coach wanted Josh to look at Hansbrough and see what Josh could do," said Chris Freise, Harrellson's teammate who also made the trip.

Wacker, a member of the Missouri Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, did more than X-and-O instruction in his 29-year career. He took a personal interest in his players.

Harrellson represented a player with the potential to play in college. But his family background did not include a strong example of what college required.

When asked to imagine Harrellson's life without basketball, Freise said, "I don't think he'd have made it out of high school. I don't think he'd care enough. He'd work in construction."

Hansbrough, then a junior for Poplar Bluff High and already a national prospect, could show Harrellson what a future college player looked like and the path it took to get there.

"That was what the whole thing was about ... ," Wacker said. "This was his opportunity to make a better life for himself."

Hansbrough made the trip worthwhile. He made a lasting impression. As Wacker recalled, the opposition had a capable 6-foot-8 center.

Wacker's unspoken approval came through the telephone line as he recalled Hansbrough's play.

"He busted the other guy's nose," Wacker said of an early exchange. "That was the end of that guy's game.

"In the first half, Tyler Hansbrough just sort of set the tone. In the second half, he just kicked everybody's a - -."

Wacker also wanted Harrellson, then a freshman, to see how hard Hansbrough played.

"Of course, Tyler Hansbrough has work ethic that's evidently from another planet," Harrellson's high school coach said. "I always put Josh in that same type (category). But Tyler Hansbrough is Tyler Hansbrough and Josh is Josh."

Harrellson is still making the transition to college as evidenced by a tentative and scoreless six minutes against Virginia Military Institute in Friday's opener.

The two former Missouri high school big men could meet on Tuesday when Kentucky plays at No. 1 North Carolina. A stress reaction has sidelined Hansbrough, now an All-American and national Player of the Year candidate.

Suffice to say more than a few people in St. Charles, Mo., would like to see Harrellson play against Hansbrough.

"Assuming Hansbrough is healthy, it will be the first time Josh can get recognized as far as nation-wide," said Freise, who suggested Hansbrough and Harrellson are similar players.

"Neither is a jump-out-of-the-gym dunker. Neither is a Greg Oden shot blocker. But they're both hard-nosed players, and they're strong."

If nothing else, Harrellson could get another up-close look at how a big man is supposed to set the tone and, uh, kick butt.

Exceptional fan

Because she lost a bet, UK's most famous fan, actress Ashley Judd, will be in the North Carolina student section at Tuesday night's game. We exchanged e-mails to learn how a nice girl could end up in a place like that.

Q: Since you'll be sitting with the North Carolina students, will you be cheering for the Tar Heels?

A: I will be my usual UK self in their student section. Becoming a Tar Heel was most adamantly not a part of the deal. ... Just that I'd come stand with them!

Q: How did you make a bet that might require you to be in the North Carolina student section?

A: While campaigning on UNC's campus with Senator (Joe) Biden's sister, we had a marvelous crowd that was very fired up for change and who was determined to change the trend of young people who say they are going to vote (and) then flake out on election day. To help galvanize their participation and encourage them not to be complacent at the last minute, I spontaneously blurted out that I would stand in their student section (with my UK attire, thank you very much) on the 18th if they got out the vote in a big way and delivered N.C. for the change we need. This, obviously, would be historic, as NC hasn't voted Democratic since Jimmy Carter, and it would help make (Barack) Obama and Biden's victory more emphatic.

Q: Did you remember the bet on election night?

A: I was watching the election returns very closely and keenly waiting for N.C.'s results! Well, just as President-elect Obama will deliver on his promises for America, I, too, shall be impeccable with my word, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Oh dear drearier me, what have I gotten myself into this time!

Q: Am I wrong to think of you as an activist as well as an actress?

A: I have been an activist and rabble rouser since my time at UK. I have campaigned in many elections throughout my life, and this one was no different in terms of my involvement, but it was more highly charged, precipitous and historic. I was in Denver for the entire convention and found it profoundly life changing and meaningful. I have been incredibly emotionally invested in Senator Obama's campaign for change. I campaigned with his senior domestic policy advisor throughout Missouri, provided voice-over for the Defenders of Wildlife commercial exposing (Sarah) Palin's atrocities against polar bears, and led get-out-the vote rallies in N.C. and Ky., amongst many other activities (like so many millions! I am no different in my involvement).

Q: Many people think it will be a long night for Kentucky. What do you think?

A: I think it's going to be an extra long night for me!

Lucas update

UK assistant coach Glynn Cyprien was on the Oklahoma State staff when John Lucas played for the Cowboys. So, of course, Cyprien called when Jai Lucas decided to transfer from Florida.

As Jai Lucas recalled, Cyprien asked if UK could be put on the list of possible transfer destinations. The player agreed.

So Kentucky joined Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Stanford, Rice and Maryland as schools receiving Lucas' academic transcript.

Lucas cautioned against jumping to any conclusions. "Right now it's just me releasing to schools who've called and shown an interest," he said. "Nothing too serious right now with anybody."

Lucas intends to finish the fall semester at Florida before seriously looking for a new school.

Of putting off the process till then, Lucas said, "Everybody's starting the season. I don't want to be a commotion to any program."

Lucas also wants a chance to be the floor leader for a team. He believed that possibility at Florida ended when the Gators chose to make fellow sophomore Nick Calathes the point guard this season. Lucas moved to shooting guard.

"Being 5-10, I feel I'm better at getting everybody involved and picking my own spots," he said. "Not just coming out and being more of an Allen Iverson-type player when I don't feel that's the strength of my game."

Lucas became the ninth Florida player to transfer since the 2003-04 season. The others were Ryan Appleby (Washington), Rashid Al-Kaleem (Division II American International University), Mario Boggan (Oklahoma State), Mohamed Abukar (San Diego State), David Huertas (Mississippi), Brandon Powell (Marshall), Jimmie Sutton (Florida Atlantic) and Jonathan Mitchell (Rutgers).

You betcha

The Web site BetOnline.com tabs Tennessee as the 5-to-2 favorite to win the SEC. Kentucky is the second choice at 5-to-1.

Other favorites to win conferences are UCLA (9-to-5) in the Pac 10, Texas (3-to-1) in the Big 12, North Carolina (even) in the ACC, UConn (5-to-2) in the Big East, Michigan State (3-to-2) in the Big Ten, Memphis (1-to-3) in Conference USA.

BetOnline.com made North Carolina a 9-to-4 favorite to win the national championship. Duke is a 10-to-1 second choice.

Other favorites include UCLA (12-to-1), Louisville (20-to-1), UConn (20-to-1), Michigan State (20-to-1), Pittsburgh (25-to-1) and Memphis (25-to-1).

What are the odds for Kentucky?

BetOnline.com spokesman Grant Marek wrote that UK is a 40-to-1 pick to win the national championship. Other teams with those same odds are Tennessee and Marquette.

Stop, look, listen

Keith Galloway, the baseball coach at Lexington Christian Academy, sent an e-mail last week saying how he much he enjoyed reading recently about Patrick Patterson's willingness to listen.

Here's an edited version of Galloway's note:

"I am a teacher and coach (this is my 17th year at the varsity level), and listening is something that I try to emphasize with my students and players. I was thrilled to read ... the statements made by his H.S. coach as well as Coach (Billy) Gillispie about Patrick's listening skills. ...

"It was wonderful to have a current player be genuinely complimented on the approach he takes in practices, pre-game talks and on the court decision-making during games as a direct result of his listening skills and not just his athletic ability. ...

"I probably speak for a lot of my teaching, coaching and parenting peers — our young people need to hear/see more of those type of positive character traits being displayed by the athletes they admire."

Oh those refs

UK fan Anthony Johnson sent an e-mail giving his views of the exhibition victory over Missouri-St. Louis.

"The Cats looked great last night, like a team," he wrote. "But I am curious, will the officiating be better this year?"

Johnson won't be able to judge the officiating for himself. As a Sergeant First Class in the Army, he left on Wednesday to begin a one-year hitch in Afghanistan.

"I will try to catch as much as I can on Armed Forces Network but likely won't see too many games unless Kentucky is No. 1 most of the season," he wrote. "Let Coach G. know even in Afghanistan I will be 100 percent Kentucky Wildcat Blue and a true fan through and through."

Johnson, a native of Hazard, wrote that he had rooted for Kentucky since Adolph Rupp was coach.

Good deed punished

Former UK Coach Tubby Smith returned to town last week to help announce the completion of his $1 million donation to United Way of the Bluegrass. Herald-Leader staff writer Jim Warren's story brought a rebuke from fan Otto Mason.

"This pitiful excuse of a basketball coach should have to pay Kentucky for the rest of his life for what he did to the basketball program," Mason wrote in an e-mail.

Mason, a native of Middlesboro, has lived in Dayton, Ohio, since 1950.

In an e-mail message, Mason suggested that Smith tried to destroy UK basketball because "he became upset with the UK fans for the treatment they gave his son, Saul."

Happy birthday

To Alex Legion. He turns 20 today.

Legion stayed at UK only one semester before transferring to Illinois at semester break last year. Illinois basketball spokesman Kent Brown sent an e-mail on Legion, who will be eligible to play for the Illini next month.

"Alex is doing very well in practice ... ," Brown wrote. "He has been shooting very well in practice, and continues to work on his ball handling and defense. He should become eligible as soon as his grades are posted at the end of the semester (which) could be Dec. 20, no later than Dec. 23. Coach (Bruce Weber) expects him to contribute immediately and could even work his way into the starting lineup this season."

  Comments