Before there was a John Wall or a Chris Paul or a Jason Kidd or a Magic Johnson or a Tiny Archibald, Bob Cousy set the standard for point guard play.
Cousy, who played for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s, was so good they put his name on an award for stellar point guard play.
Now, several point guard generations later, Kentucky freshman Wall is a candidate to win the Bob Cousy Award. An 11-man media panel will choose 20 point guards for consideration early this month, then reduce the list to 10 in early February and down to five in early March.
A winner will be selected during the NCAA Tournament with the award presented during the Final Four weekend.
Alas, except for the North Carolina game, when cramps limited Wall's effectiveness, Cousy has not seen the UK freshman play.
"So I didn't get a sense of how good he is," Cousy said in a telephone conversation last week. "Obviously, he's an outstanding talent, I guess. How tall is he?"
When told Wall is 6-foot-4, Cousy said, "Which is good size, obviously, for a point guard who has those kind of skills. I just didn't see enough of him to form an opinion."
Not that Cousy is without an opinion about point guard play. He wonders if point guard skills are slowly vanishing, giving way to dunking and scoring. He hopes the award in his name will encourage more point guard play from ball handlers.
"The NBA has 30 teams," Cousy said. "I don't know if there's a half-dozen legitimate point guards. Every team has a player they call a point guard. But they don't function as such. Usually they're two-guards (that play point guard) because they can pass a little bit."
In a sense, the center line identifies point guards. "The difference simply is a mindset," Cousy said. "If he comes over half-court saying to himself, 'I can blow this sucker away. I can do my thing and if that doesn't work, I still have the ball and I'll create for somebody else. ...'"
That's an imposter.
"As opposed to a point guard who comes across half-court every time saying, 'I have to create something for one of the other four. Then if that doesn't happen as the shot clock winds down, I'm going to do my thing.'"
Wall set a school record with 16 assists against Hartford last Tuesday. Cousy recalled getting an NBA-record 28 assists against the then-outclassed Minneapolis Lakers in 1959.
"It was completely meaningless because we knew we were going to win," Cousy said. "... A point guard is sensitive to that. Against an opponent I knew we'd beat, I'd focus almost entirely on setting up the other guys, and probably have some fun doing my thing."
An assist is such a subjective achievement that the NCAA did not recognize it as an official statistic for many years.
"When we played, it was the pass that led directly to a score," Cousy said. "Nowadays, if I throw you an inbounds pass and you dribble the length of the floor and do all sorts of stuff and dunk it, I still get an assist."
That's an exaggeration from a self-described purist, but it explains the slippery nature of what constitutes an assist.
Wall's 15th assist came on a feed to the low post. Josh Harrellson took the pass, then pivoted to free himself for a turnaround jumper. Not an assist, Cousy said.
More than once in transition, Wall advanced the ball up court to a teammate set up at the three-point line. Not assists in Cousy's mind.
The Hall of Famer simply knows a point guard when he sees one.
"I see a guy play, I know if he's a creative point guard," he said. "I don't have to base it on the number of assists he had that game."
'Speak the truth'
UK's unbeaten start this season failed to impress reader Ralph Spencer.
"If you continue to play Mickey Mouse colleges, you will continue to win," he wrote in an e-mail. "That's a fact, and you know it. If you continue to play Mickey Mouse colleges any player will look good and you know it. Speak the truth!"
Spencer, 63, played basketball for Floyd County. Now, he owns businesses in Lexington and Pikeville.
"I don't want to come over as a non-fan," he wrote, "but what I see is what I see."
According to CollegeRPI.com and the ratings updated on New Year's Day, Kentucky played four teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule with an RPI in the top 100: No. 15 UConn, No. 44 North Carolina, No. 52 Louisville and No. 63 Austin Peay.
Only six of UK's 11 Southeastern Conference opponents had an RPI in the top 100: No. 36 Mississippi, No. 40 Tennessee, No. 54 South Carolina, No. 58 Mississippi State, No. 60 Vanderbilt and No. 80 Alabama.
Kentucky had a No. 20 RPI with a strength of schedule of 153.
Player of the Year
John Wall would be the second freshman to be named national Player of the Year by The Associated Press.
The first — and, so far, only — freshman to be Player of the Year was Kevin Durant of Texas.
"If we took the vote right now, Wall would get 75 votes from the 65-member panel," wrote Jim O'Connell, the long-time college basketball editor for The Associated Press.
O'Connell noted an exchange he had with a caller to his Sirius radio show last week.
"The guy started with 'What a great day Saturday when John Calipari and Rick Pitino get together,'" O'Connell wrote in an e-mail. "I said hold on. The only name you say with Kentucky now is John Wall. He is the reason people will watch. He's so good that even Calipari has to admit he is not the top banana in the program and won't be until the NBA Draft in June."
One man, one vote
UK received one first-place vote in The Associated Press top 25 poll last week. That vote came from sportswriter Scott Johnson of The Daily Herald, the newspaper in Everett, Wash.
Not everyone thinks the UK-U of L series is a good thing. Among the holdouts is Ray Hornback, who was vice president for university relations at UK when the combination of public pressure and then-Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. forced Kentucky to play Louisville.
"The Kentucky-Louisville 'rivalry' — I'm putting that in quotes — is a media fabrication," Hornback said. "Kentucky and Louisville have never been rivals."
Hornback continues to believe UK had nothing to gain and a lot to lose by playing Louisville.
He scoffed at the notion that UK-U of L games help basketball throughout Kentucky. "That's a phony issue," he said. "In this state, people always have been excited about UK football and basketball, and always will be. U of L doesn't like it.
"It was a way for Louisville to gain prestige. It helped Louisville, obviously."
Don't forget Kansas
While Kentucky beat North Carolina to 2,000 victories, don't forget Kansas. The Jayhawks entered the new year only 18 victories shy of 2,000.
Roy Williams objected to UK's grandiose "greatest tradition ... " announcement before a game by noting that he had coached at Kansas.
Of course, Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was the first coach at Kansas. By the way, he's also the only Kansas coach with a losing record.
"Naismith told Forrest "Phog" Allen that you don't coach basketball, you just play it," recalled Bob Davis, the radio play-by-play man for Kansas the last 26 seasons.
Allen coached the founding father of UK basketball, Adolph Rupp, and the icon of North Carolina basketball, Dean Smith.
When asked if Kansas felt overlooked in the race to 2,000, Davis said, "I don't think so. Not a lot has been said."
An edge Kansas has over Kentucky and North Carolina is Allen Field House. Davis calls the Jayhawks' homecourt the "Fenway Park of college basketball."
In a column for Basketball Times, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe compared the arenas for Kansas and Kentucky.
"Allen Field House is a shrine," he wrote. "Rupp Arena is, well, big."
When UK officials resisted the pressure to start a series with Louisville in 1983, they had the support of the student newspaper.
The Kentucky Kernel said it would be "foolish, destructive and undesirable" for UK to play U of L in the regular season. The paper said the teams should play only in the NCAA Tournament.
The Kernel said that "dreamy predictions" of networks bidding big money to televise the game should be resisted.
When reminded of that stance, Andrew Oppmann laughed. Then Kernel news editor and now the publisher of two newspapers in Tennessee, he said he stood by the assertion that an annual game took away from the buzz of a once-in-a-great-while encounter in the NCAA Tournament.
But, Oppmann acknowledged, it's been a fun series.
"As an alum, I truly enjoy watching the game every year," he said. "Perhaps when I was younger, the idea of not seeing those programs go head to head didn't seem as much fun as it does as an adult."
Why did UK resist playing U of L?
UK officials said they were simply following a policy. U of L officials said such a series would serve as de facto recognition of the Cardinals as a basketball equal.
Then-Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., a driving force in making the series happen, agreed with U of L.
"Kentucky had a certain one-upmanship and thought they were better," he said. "They wanted to keep the image that they were the flagship university. And they are the flagship university. But that doesn't mean they're better in sports or better in certain areas of education."
UK did not want to share the in-state fan support it had gained, Brown said, before adding that "we need both universities to excel."
Noting that members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins pop champagne each year after the last NFL unbeaten team loses, I wondered what members of UK's only undefeated team since the start of the Adolph Rupp era thought of sharing that distinction with the current team.
Former director of athletics Cliff Hagan was the leading scorer on UK's 25-0 team in 1953-54.
So how would Hagan feel if this year's team finished with an unbeaten record?
"I wish it would happen," he said.
"Of course," he said. "That means a NCAA championship, too. That's a wonderful New Year's wish."
Protecting turf. Not liking being pressured to play. UK had reasons to not want to play U of L.
But former UK coach Joe B. Hall wanted it known that fear of losing was not one of them.
UK regularly played such heavyweights as Kansas, Indiana and Notre Dame at that time. UK also played North Carolina on occasion and sprinkled its schedule with other teams from the six major conferences.
"I loved playing the best," Hall said. "I didn't shy away from anybody. Anyone who suggests that needs to look at the schedules."
Hartford Coach Dan Leibovitz worked for John Chaney at Temple. He thought so much of Chaney he named his son Noah Chaney.
"If not for John Chaney, there's just no way I'm at this game as head coach," Leibovitz said before his Hawks played UK. "Simple as that. Everything I ever accomplish in basketball starts with him."
To Irving Thomas. The former UK forward turned 44 on Saturday.