Kentucky’s game against UCLA on Friday tipped off at 9:53 p.m. EDT. UK’s game against Northern Kentucky the previous Friday also confused start time with bed time.
No fan of finishing games around midnight, Kentucky Coach John Calipari used his radio show last week to volunteer an idea to ease the burden on his players: Eliminate postgame news conferences and media availability.
“Don’t let us deal with the media,” Calipari said. “When the game ends, go home.”
Presumably, this was a tongue-in-cheek suggestion. If serious, it veers wildly off the servant leadership theme Calipari likes to espouse.
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David Ridpath, a leader of the reform-minded Drake Group, sounded a more altruistic note. He said the elimination of postgame interviews was “an interesting, but unrealistic idea as people have jobs to do.”
Of course, college basketball’s television masters dictate the starting times. Here’s another interesting, but unrealistic idea: When the current TV rights contracts expire, college basketball leaders should take back control of when games begin.
This means TV would not be able to set times in order to maximize viewership and advertising revenue. This would also mean decreased rights fees for college programs and conferences.
Concern for the convenience of fans and the ability of athletes to do their school work taking priority over making money? What a concept.
“We could take a stand, but in reality I don’t think we are,” said Ridpath before adding of the late starts, “but I feel it is something that can and should be addressed.”
Made-for-TV late starts for road games during the regular season mean players return to campus in the wee hours of the morning.
Michael B. Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, put the late starts in the context of colleges and universities giving athletics a higher priority than academics (if not replacing academic pursuits with athletic aims altogether).
“Beneath the annual spectacle of the NCAA Tournament lies an ugly truth,” Poliakoff wrote in a March 13 news release. “Academic misconduct and lowered standards too often are an engine that powers college sports. Far too many colleges are surrendering their academic integrity to pursue athletic glory.”
In a follow-up exchange of emails, Poliakoff lamented what he saw as — let’s be polite — a lower priority placed on classroom achievement. This can have long-term consequences when only a small percentage of college athletes play professionally, and all stop playing eventually.
“In far too many cases, the pursuit of television revenue seems to dictate the standards and priorities that universities set for their student-athletes,” he wrote in an email. “In effect, they have normalized a culture of low expectations that does not serve students well in the long run.”
As Calipari seemed to enjoy saying on his radio show, players miss the most class time during the NCAA Tournament.
Then again, as Randy Newman pointed out in a song, it’s money that matters.
“Institutions and faculty can stop this insanity,” Ridpath said, “but we just don’t really seem to care.”
As a player on three of UCLA’s national championship teams, Lynn Shackelford was the outside shooter that played off the presence of Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) around the basket.
A conversation with Shackelford last week included, of course, UCLA’s victory in Rupp Arena in December.
When told that Kentucky doesn’t lose at home often and that John Calipari’s record in Rupp Arena (as UK coach) is 134-6, Shackelford said, “That’s a great record.”
Then, he added in a light-hearted way, “But when you compare it to (John) Wooden’s record in Pauley Pavilion, it’s probably not that good.”
UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion opened in 1965. As UK fans know, Wooden retired in 1975. His 10-year record in Pauley Pavilion was 149-2.
That figures out to a .987 winning percentage, which is better than Calipari’s “not that good” .971 in Rupp Arena.
In explaining why John Calipari had to accept the offer to become Kentucky coach in 2009, Memphis-based friend Don DeWeese said, “You never turn down the chance to go to the mountaintop.”
Don DeWeese owns Gibson’s Donuts, one of John Calipari’s favorite hangouts when he was Memphis coach. After attending 8 a.m. Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Calipari would go to Gibson’s and stay anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
“He’d talk to the regulars,” DeWeese said. “What he told those old men that morning would be said on the nightly news because it was like he was practicing what he would say to the news people.”
Ken Bennett, the founder of the Street Ministries charity in Memphis, said Memphis fans were upset that John Calipari originally announced he was not leaving in 2009. Ultimately, he did leave for Kentucky.
Of this change between words and actions, Bennett said, “It’s coaches every year.”
Bennett said it was unrealistic “to expect them to be totally transparent when their livelihood is on the line. People take that as you hoodwinked us.”
‘A hustler, a marketer’
Here’s how Ken Bennett explained John Calipari’s charitable efforts, which include more than $1 million to Street Ministries in Memphis.
“Cal’s a hustler, a marketer,” Bennett said, “and he’s always out there.”
Bennett recalled being in Calipari’s UK office two years ago.
“He said, ‘What else can I do for ‘Streets?’” Bennett said. “‘I just have a window here where my name means something. And we need to leverage it.’
“That sounded so arrogant, but it was so true. He realizes, ‘I’ve got a window here while I’m coaching that I will never have again. So I’m going to be aggressive and assertive and try to leverage it.’
“And I’m sure for personal good,” Bennett said, “but certainly for the good of others.”
That’s wrong, dude
A caller to John Calipari’s radio show Monday congratulated the Kentucky coach on another season with 30-plus victories. It was the sixth time in eight seasons as coach that UK had won 30 or more games, he said.
After thanking the caller, Calipari added, “I don’t think that’s right.”
To which, the caller said, “I think that’s right, dude.”
Actually, the caller was wrong and Calipari correct. Four — not six — of his eight UK teams have won 30 or more games: 2009-10 (35-3), 2011-12 (38-2), 2014-15 (38-1) and this season (32-5 going into Sunday’s South Region finals against North Carolina).
NBA Draft for Leaf?
Of course, Kentucky does not have a monopoly on one-and-done players. It appears TJ Leaf will put his name into consideration for this year’s NBA Draft.
When asked what his son’s vertical leap was, Brad Leaf said, “I do not know his vertical.”
Then the elder Leaf added, “I’ll know pretty soon. Probably when he goes to all this draft stuff to see what’s going on.”
The draft stuff begins when a player enters his name. The player can work out for teams. Then, if invited, the player participates in the NBA Combine.
When asked if his son would, as they say, test the waters, Brad Leaf said, “Well, yeah. I think he would have to. See what’s going on.”
Like father, like son
Heredity helps explain why UCLA freshman TJ Leaf has been such a productive player. His father, Brad Leaf, was a standout player for Evansville.
The elder Leaf was a three-time all-conference player for Evansville and an honorable mention All-American in 1981-82. He scored 1,605 points and was inducted into Evansville’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Brad Leaf played for longtime coach Jack Keefer at Lawrence North High School in the Indianapolis area. He was a freshman at Evansville the year after a 1977 plane crash killed all but one player on the Evansville team.
Of his freshman season, Brad Leaf said, “That whole year was like a tribute to them.”
The one player who missed the flight died two weeks later when hit by a drunk driver.
‘Zero to 100’
Former UK player Willie Cauley-Stein was the lone rookie on the Sacramento Kings’ team in the 2015-16 season.
This season, with another former UK player, DeMarcus Cousins, traded, Cauley-Stein has become something of a wise elder. Among the players he mentors is yet a third ex-Cat, rookie Skal Labissiere.
Like going from “zero to 100,” Cauley-Stein told Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
Cauley-Stein said he had a duty to help younger players like Labissiere.
“We both get to learn at the same time together,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s cool because I’m kind of the older dude from school. I can tell he looks up to me, and on off-days, he’s always in my ear. It’s cool. He’s like a little brother.”
Cauley-Stein saw Labissiere becoming a productive NBA player.
“He’s young, so he’s going to learn not to make the bonehead plays,” Cauley-Stein said. “We all go through it. Once he gets that under his belt, he’s going to be a heck of a player in this league. And I’m glad I get to mentor him through it.”
To EJ Floreal. He turned 24 on Thursday. … To Todd Bearup. He turned 50 on Saturday. … To Alabama Coach Avery Johnson. He turned 52 on Saturday. … To Wenyen Gabriel. He turns 20 on Sunday (today). … To Saul Smith. He turns 38 on Tuesday. … To Sean Woods. He turns 47 on Wednesday. … To former UK assistant Ralph Willard. He turns 71 on Wednesday. … To former UK football coach Hal Mumme. He turns 65 on Wednesday.