Sports

Liggins facing new ball game

Before and after he worked Kentucky's game against Indiana last month, CBS commentator Greg Anthony spoke to freshman DeAndre Liggins. Anthony sought to help Liggins make the seldom-easy transition from high school star to college novice.

With few exceptions, freshmen must re-learn how to play basketball. In Liggins' case, he came to Kentucky as a highly regarded prospect. But, in a sense, he'd never played the game before.

"The higher the level gets, the more difficult the game gets," Anthony said last week when asked about his talks with Liggins. "You can't impose yourself with just your physical ability. You have to think the game more."

This creates a Catch-22 situation. The freshman must play a thinking man's game. Yet thinking can lead to hesitancy and indecision.

"The game at this level is not instinctive for him," Anthony said of Liggins. "By that, I mean playing winning basketball is not instinctive for him. ... Until it becomes instinctive, you're never going to be as good a basketball player as you're capable of being."

Like most freshmen, Liggins needs time to adapt. There's no set time for players to adapt.

Liggins complicated the learning process by refusing to re-enter one game and then sitting out another game for some undisclosed brush with UK basketball justice. Anthony called these incidents "growing pains."

Anthony, who works games for CBS this season, noted how Georgetown Coach John Thompson III told him of how quickly heralded freshman Greg Monroe adapts.

Anthony likened the difference between Monroe and Liggins to two students, one absorbing the material in a textbook with one reading while the other needs several re-readings.

"That doesn't mean you can't get to the same place," Anthony said.

In part because of injuries, Jodie Meeks blossomed in his third season for Kentucky. "That used to be the norm for how guys develop," Anthony said.

Then there are instant stars like Derrick Rose for Memphis last season. They create an unrealistic expectation for other freshmen.

A point guard on UNLV's national championship team of 1990 and then an NBA player, Anthony brings a been there-done that credibility to a discussion with current players.

He wants to help players in the same way that such stars as Magic Johnson gave him advice.

Anthony spoke to Liggins before and after the Indiana game at the invitation of the UK coaches. They talked about the point guard position and how it should be played.

Anthony also spoke to the UK team.

"I told them they had the ability and talent to be one of the best teams in the country," he said. " ... That's proven to be true so far. They're deserving because they've competed and played well."

Notable broadcaster

A note last week cited a Web site that had compiled a list of the top 50 broadcasters. A reader sent an e-mail protesting that the list did not include the late, great Cawood Ledford, who called UK games for 39 seasons.

That note led former UK player Guy Strong to send an e-mail. Strong said that Joel Utley, who has called Kentucky Wesleyan games for 48 seasons, should be included in a list of broadcasting greats.

Utley, 69, modestly shied from being linked to Ledford. But he did share an oft-told story dating to his days as a fledgling broadcaster.

While attending UK, Utley worked part-time for Lexington radio station WVLK. The morning after Kentucky beat UCLA in 1961, his boss asked Utley to go to the airport and interview John Wooden before the Bruins left town.

Utley did what he was told. The interview with the UCLA coach lasted "probably not more than five minutes," he said.

In the next day or two, Utley received what was known then as an air-mail letter. It was a hand-written thank-you note from Wooden.

"I was bowled over that the coach would even remember me and write me a letter," Utley said on Friday. "From that day to this, I've been a UCLA fan."

Utley agreed that such gracious gestures are rare. "Never happened again in 48 years," he said.

Utley, a native of Madisonville, has done the play-by-play for 1,365 Kentucky Wesleyan basketball games as of Thursday. He has the distinction of being the only broadcaster in the nation (Divisions I, II and III, plus NAIA) to call eight NCAA national championship games.

Kentucky Wesleyan considers Utley the dean of all college basketball broadcasters in Kentucky and thinks it's safe in saying he's among the top 10 nationally in broadcast longevity.

Utley, who graduated from Kentucky Wesleyan in 1974 with a degree in speech and drama, isn't the only person with a long record of service to the school's basketball program.

Glenn Young has been the public address announcer for 55 years. He got the job as a freshman because he talked too much in a health class taught by Kentucky Wesleyan basketball coach Robert "Bullet" Wilson.

Knight on Tubby

Thanks to Sid Hartman, the iconic columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, we learned Bob Knight's opinion of Tubby Smith.

Hartman had dinner with Knight, who came to Minneapolis last week to work Minnesota's game against Purdue.

"I think he's done a very good job," Hartman reported Knight saying of Smith. "I thought he was a good choice for the job. I got to know Tubby when he was at Kentucky, and I really liked him. I respect the way he goes about things."

Hartman noted how boosters lobbied for the hiring of Knight. That effort ended when Smith became available.

Hartman considers Knight a close friend. While having dinner, Knight said he might like to coach again.

"But it would have to be something that was good," Hartman quoted Knight as saying. "I mean, it'd have to be something that I like."

'Home cooking'

During Wednesday's game in Rupp Arena, Kentucky shot 32 free throws. Auburn shot six.

When asked about that disparity, Auburn guard Rasheem Barrett chose his words carefully.

"Let's find the correct answer for that one," he said. "We got most of it at the end of the game. We had to foul. Let's say that."

Reader and UK fan Barry Thomas, who regularly leaves voice-mail messages, had a more pointed opinion.

"Home cooking (went) a little overboard," he said. "It's supposed to be there a little bit. But, good lord, give it a break."

Audacity of hype

Billy Gillispie's weekly radio call-in show is always a flatter-fest. Sometimes it's hard to hear the talk amid all the back-patting and bouquet throwing.

But even by the show's standards, last week's hour included some blush-inducing hosannas.

One caller suggested, "In four or five years, fans will have to say Billy Gillispie is the best coach Kentucky's ever had."

That sounded audacious. Then again, Adolph Rupp hasn't won a game in 37 years.

The next caller thanked Gillispie for "bringing the fun back to Kentucky basketball."

Gillispie sidestepped the implied criticism of his predecessor, Tubby Smith, who averaged 26 victories, won five SEC titles, guided UK to four region finals and won a national championship in 10 seasons.

"I'm having a lot of fun," Gillispie told the caller. " ... I believe we're about to take off."

'Pretty powerful feeling'

With the schedule not calling for a mid-week game, Georgia Coach Dennis Felton was able to attend Barack Obama's inauguration. He and his family sat near the staging.

"It was really, really cold," he said on the SEC coaches teleconference on Thursday, "but really, really special.

"I'd never seen so many people in my life. And the feeling of brotherhood and optimism and commitment, you could just feel it everywhere in the crowd as people worked patiently with each other to deal with gridlock and freezing cold temperatures."

Felton and his family could get a sense for the expanse of people when the video screens showed the crowd.

"It was a pretty powerful feeling," the Georgia coach said. " ... Really priceless and irreplaceable with my two young sons, 14 and 11, to be there in that moment. I struggle to find words to describe it."

Donovan notches No. 300

With the victory at Auburn earlier this month, Coach Billy Donovan achieved his 300th victory for Florida. That made him reflect on his seasons in Gainesville dating to November of 1996.

For the current Gators, that's ancient history.

"Fourth grade, Highlands Elementary School, Miss Kelly," sophomore forward Chandler Parsons said. "I was learning how to write cursive."

Grim reaper returns

When John Pelphrey was an assistant coach at Florida, he liked the part of the pre-game introductions that featured someone dressed as the grim reaper. Florida stopped using the grim reaper a few years ago, but the school brought him back last weekend when Pelphrey's Arkansas team played the Gators.

Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley knew Pelphrey liked the grim reaper. So Foley had the reaper stand by Pelphrey during introductions.

"Jeremy Foley sends his regards," the reaper told Pelphrey.

"I had a feeling it was going to show back up," Pelphrey said. "I thought it was pretty funny."

NBAdraft.net

According to a Monday update, the Web site nbadraft.net projects UK big man Patrick Patterson being taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 17th pick in this year's draft.

No seniors were projected as picks until Eric Maynor of VCU by Detroit with the 18th pick. Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina was not taken until the 25th pick (Oklahoma City).

The Web site did not mention Jodie Meeks in its 60-pick projection. Meeks did get mentioned in the 2010 mock draft, being taken by Portland with the 51st pick.

First pick in the 2009 mock draft? Blake Griffin of Oklahoma to Oklahoma City.

Good for business

Former UK All-American Kevin Grevey says that Kentucky's play this season has been good for his restaurant in Falls Church, Va.

No matter how UK fares, a hard-core group of eight to 10 Cat fans come to Grevey's to watch telecasts of Kentucky games. That number is up to 60 to 80 this season.

"Coming in droves," Grevey said. "Like the Pitino years again."

Like everyone else, Grevey found it hard to believe when Meeks torched Tennessee for 54 points.

"He's a machine," Grevey said of Meeks.

Congratulations

After Jodie Meeks broke Kentucky's single-game scoring record with 54 points at Tennessee, former UK Coach Tubby Smith called the player's father, Orestes Meeks.

Smith, who recruited Meeks to UK, called to offer congratulations.

Overlooked, undervalued

Except for Rivals.com, the recruiting services shrugged when Jodie Meeks committed to Kentucky. The Prep Stars service did not include Meeks in its list of the nation's top 100 prospects.

"Obviously, we were wrong in terms of development," said Brick Oettinger, a longtime recruiting analyst for Prep Stars.

If it's any consolation, the recruiting services also dismissed Stephen Curry as a top-drawer prospect.

Happy birthday

To UK forward Perry Stevenson. He turned 22 on Friday.

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