UK Men's Basketball

PGA event helps former UK basketball publicist show love for Lexington area

Former UK sports information director Brooks Downing hopes a PGA golf event he helped bring to the Lexington area helps his hometown.
Former UK sports information director Brooks Downing hopes a PGA golf event he helped bring to the Lexington area helps his hometown. File photo

Brooks Downing describes himself as “a ninth-generation Lexingtonian.” He says his family’s roots in Lexington go back to the presidency of George Washington.

“Fort days,” he said with a chuckle. “It goes back to, like, the old fort days.”

Francis Downing left Yorkshire, England, before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He settled in Baltimore before going west in 1785 to the town of Limestone, which is the modern day Maysville.

It was a relatively short journey for family members to migrate to Lexington, which was founded in 1775 and named for the colonists’ Revolutionary War victory over the British in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Downing’s mother researched the family history and shared the findings with her children.

“We had it going before Ancestry.com,” Downing said with a laugh.

This family history played a part in Downing’s company, bd Global, joining the Bluegrass Sports Commission in helping to arrange the Barbasol Championship, which will be played July 19-22 at Champions at Keene Trace in Nicholasville.

“It’s something positive I can do for the hometown I love,” Downing said.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin announces PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship will be coming to Nicholasville in 2018.

The hope is the PGA event can have a $20 million impact on the Lexington area’s economy, plus fund a six-figure donation to local charities.

This will be the first of a four-year deal to hold the Barbasol Championship in central Kentucky. Information about tickets and volunteer work opportunities can be found at barbasolchampionshipky.com.

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops is expected to play in a pro-am event that week, Downing said. And former UK basketball coach Tubby Smith has expressed interest in playing.

History aside, Downing should be a familiar name. He is a UK graduate (class of 1988) who later became the sports information director for the basketball program.

His start in the business side of sports came by chance. He answered an ad in the UK student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, looking for someone to work for the on-campus public radio station.

Downing got the job and found himself assisting on a show that starred Cawood Ledford and Ralph Hacker.

“I just thought I landed in hog heaven,” he said, surely meaning Cat heaven.

Later, Downing worked for Ledford and then the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Because of the connection with Ledford, Rick Pitino hired him as head publicist for the basketball program. In that job, he got to trumpet the accomplishments of two national championship teams: Pitino’s 1996 champs and Smith’s 1998 squad.

Downing left UK in 2003 to start his own sports promotional business. In the last few years, bd Global has arranged about 125 college basketball games; tournaments in Nassau, Bahamas, and Vancouver, British Columbia; a college hockey tournament in Las Vegas; and three professional golf events.

Through his company, he has stayed involved with UK basketball. He helped arrange the (Bill) Keightley Classic in 2013-14 and the Adolph Rupp Classic in 2017-18.

Another similar event is in the works for this coming season, he said. Plus he helped arrange a two-game contract with Utah. The Utes play at UK in 2018-19. The rematch will be in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas the following season.

But first, there is the Barbasol Championship, which Downing said could include Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Angel Cabrera in the field.

He can add those names to a glittering resume that already includes Ledford, Pitino, Smith, Eddie Sutton, Billy Wise, Louis Stout and C.M. Newton.

“You look at the folks I’ve been able to come in contact with, I feel like I’m Forrest Gump,” Downing said. “I just keep popping up in these things around here.”

Smaller Blue Nation

The recent announcement that upcoming renovations to Rupp Arena will reduce capacity to about 20,500 means Kentucky is looking at having the sixth-largest home-court capacity beginning with the 2019-20 season.

The downsizing — the result of changing 14 of the 24 upper level sections from bleachers to chair-back seats — fits a pattern nationally. UK will not be blazing a trail in trading size for modernization.

For instance, Brigham Young did the same thing two years ago. A renovation that included larger chairs reduced capacity at its Marriott Center from 20,900 to 18,987, spokesman Kyle Chilton said. The project included construction of a new practice facility.

When it opened in 1971, the Marriott Center had a capacity of 22,700. A renovation about five years ago reduced the capacity to 20,900, Chilton said.

BYU’s average home attendance was 14,231 this past season. That marked the third straight season with a declining average home attendance. By the way, BYU bases its announced attendance on tickets sold (single-game and season tickets), plus the number of students who show up with an all-sports pass, Chilton said.

UK’s announced attendance reflects a turnstile count, plus an estimation that includes anyone and everyone else in Rupp Arena. This past season saw an average turnstile count of 17,408 and average announced attendance of 21,875.

In the SEC, Tennessee has also reduced capacity in Thompson-Boling Arena. When the doors first opened in 1987, the official capacity was 24,535. UT announced a crowd of 25,272 for an opening night victory over Marquette.

A renovation about 10 years ago, which included 32 luxury suites, reduced the capacity to 21,678.

A renovation at Florida decreased capacity from 12,000 to 10,133.

Photos from the 2017-2018 Kentucky basketball season of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Music: www.bensound.com

‘Glitz and glamour’

A recent tweet by ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg suggested that he thinks highly of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as an NBA prospect.

“Not spoiled by the process,” Greenberg tweeted of the now former UK guard. “If he can push out his range, he has a chance to be special.”

Presumably, Greenberg meant that Gilgeous-Alexander can be a star if he extends his shooting range.

But the part about not being spoiled by the process brought to mind a conversation with Gilgeous-Alexander at the NBA Combine.

Of course, Gilgeous-Alexander grew up in Canada. This led a reporter to ask if the quality of Canadian players was on the rise. Yes, Gilgeous-Alexander said, “I think we’ll be able to compete with the U.S. in the upcoming years.”

What could hold Canadian players back? Being spoiled by the process.

“These guys have got to continue to work, and not get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the game,” he said. “Just work, and they’ll get where they need to go.”

Looking ahead

With Wednesday’s deadline now passed, here’s a glance at how a few other SEC programs fared in the NBA Draft-or-return to college decision-making.

Florida: Jalen Hudson’s withdrawal from the NBA Draft gives Florida two proven perimeter scorers next season. The other is KeVaughn Allen.

Although Chris Chiozza is gone, five-star recruit Andrew Nembhard is expected to assume the point guard role.

The frontcourt lost John Egbunu, who decided not to appeal for a sixth year of eligibility. The Gators get boost with return of two freshmen who redshirted because of injury last season: Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes.

Mississippi State: Owensboro native Aric Holman, Lamar Peters and brothers Quinndary Weatherspoon and Nick Weatherspoon withdrew their names from the draft. That fuels the highest expectations for the program since at least 2012.

A top 10 recruiting class joins veteran players who played for a State team that won 25 games last season.

Arkansas: Daniel Gafford’s return helps a team that lost six seniors, plus Darious Hall and C.J. Jones transferred.

LSU: Brandon Sampson stayed in the draft, but guard Tremont Waters returns. He will be joined by the third-ranked recruiting class (by 247Sports) that includes five-star signees Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams, plus four-star signees Ja’Vonte Smart (Mr. Basketball in Louisiana) and Darius Days.

Tennessee: With Admiral Schofield withdrawing from the draft, Tennessee returns all five starters from last season’s co-SEC championship team. Co-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte’ Turner also returns, as does 89 percent of the Vols’ scoring.

Auburn: Mustapha Heron transferred, but Bryce Brown and Jared Harper might be the SEC’s best backcourt combination. And Austin Wiley, who sat out last season in the wake of a FBI investigation, “has a chance to be one of the most dominant big man in college basketball,” Coach Bruce Pearl said.

Early Madness

In Midnight Madness news, Kansas will hold its 34th annual Late Night in the Phog on Sept. 28.

It will be a festive weekend for Kansas. The Jayhawks play their homecoming football game against Oklahoma State on Sept. 29. It will also be K Club Weekend when former players, coaches and staff return to the Kansas campus.

For those who remember Midnight Madness as a mid-October happening, that Jayhawks date might seem early.

Here’s the NCAA rule 17.3.2.1 on Madness: “An institution shall not commence on-court pre-season basketball practice before the date that is 42 days before the date of the institution’s first regular-season contest.”

UK has not announced a date for its Big Blue Madness.

Happy birthday

To SEC referee (and former UK baseball player) John Hampton. He turned 50 on Saturday. ... To Dontae’ Jones, whose 28-point performance led Mississippi State over UK in the 1996 SEC Tournament finals. He turned 43 on Saturday. ... To former Florida standout Al Horford. He turns 32 on Sunday (today). ... To former UK assistant coach Barry “Slice” Rohrssen. He turns 58 on Wednesday.

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