UK Men's Basketball

Calipari says thank you to referees with trip to the Bahamas

Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland argued a call with referee John Hampton during a game against Alabama in Starkville, Miss., on Feb. 2, 2016.
Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland argued a call with referee John Hampton during a game against Alabama in Starkville, Miss., on Feb. 2, 2016. AP

John Hampton likes to tell a story about officiating Kentucky’s games during the trip to the Bahamas four years ago. No more than 30 seconds into the first game he slapped a technical foul on an opposing player.

“You’ve got a language barrier,” Hampton said. “Dude came running at me and alleging I work for Kentucky. And he’s saying it in English. It was hilarious.”

Actually, UK paid the referees’ traveling and lodging expenses, plus meals on the trip. Plus, UK paid the three-man crew a per-game fee.

Hampton laughed. “Regardless, he deserved the technical,” he said, “regardless of who was employing me.”

Kentucky and the same three referees will again work together in the same financial arrangement during this coming week’s return trip to the Bahamas. Hampton, younger brother Brent Hampton and Bart Lenox will travel with UK and call the four games. All are natives of Cynthiana and all are Southeastern Conference referees.

Hampton described these trips as UK Coach John Calipari’s way of saying thank you. Kentucky regularly calls on the referees who live nearby to work scrimmages, practices, the Blue-White Game and preseason exhibitions.

“It’s really nice of UK to do this for us,” Hampton said. “Cal really likes to have real referees when they scrimmage instead of an assistant coach or a manager. He likes it to be game-like. He likes for the young guys to get a feel for what is going to be a foul at the SEC level.”

John Calipari said Monday that he likes how the NBA handles block/charge calls

This is especially true with college basketball trending toward more tightly officiated games in order to reduce physical play. And, of course, UK’s reliance on freshmen enhances the need to familiarize the players with college officiating.

“It’s really gracious and generous on their part,” Hampton said.

It’s interesting to wonder what opposing SEC coaches think of the arrangement. Since the SEC does not permit the three to work UK’s regular-season games, there’s no direct conflict of interest such as I’m-not-calling-a-foul-against-my-Bahamas-benefactor.

But here’s a hypothetical: Say, Alabama and Kentucky are prime contenders to win the SEC regular-season championship. And the three officiate a late-season Alabama loss to, say, LSU that makes Kentucky the champion.

Would that scenario be problematic?

“Yes,” former Auburn coach Sonny Smith said. “It would. Yes. Without a doubt.”

John Clougherty, a longtime SEC referee and later supervisor of officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference, agreed.

“That’s a bad situation because if Alabama loses and finds out this guy had a paid vacation to the Bahamas, it’s going to raise eyebrows,” he said.

Clougherty volunteered an alternative hypothetical. “If Kentucky lost and there was an official from Alabama that traveled with Alabama to the Bahamas,” he said. “Knowing Cal, he’d have his suspicions.”

Don Rutledge, a longtime SEC referee, scoffed at the notion that these scenarios could raise serious concerns involving conflict of interest.

“If you don’t trust people more than that, you’re an idiot,” he said. “And the film doesn’t lie. You go back and look at film and you show me something, and then you prove cause. I have never been on the floor with a referee I knew was cheating in all the years I was a referee. I’ve never seen one. Now, I’ve seen some get mad and get a little vindictive.”

This is not to suggest suspicions are warranted. The three referees are well respected. The Hampton brothers are the sons of a retired referee, Doug Hampton. Lenox’s father, Mike Lenox, is a retired teacher and noted amateur golfer.

In their “real jobs,” the Hamptons work in insurance. Lenox works in golf retail.

It turns out that the arrangement of familiar referees working games on a college team’s foreign trip is commonplace.

Rutledge said he once went on a 28-day trip to Australia to call games for Lute Olson’s Arizona team. He also went to Europe with Olson to conduct clinics. Nike and the NCAA paid his expenses.

And Clougherty said that Tony Greene worked games when Florida State went on a foreign trip.

Besides Calipari saying thank you, Clougherty cited two other non-controversial reasons UK might want the SEC officials. There might not be an abundance of quality referees in the Bahamas, he said. Calipari would want referees who could prevent the games from becoming dangerously rough or bogged down because of over-officiating.

By the way, Clougherty said that Canada has a good number of quality referees, and Duke is not taking ACC referees on its tour of Canada later this month.

Of course, officiating invites intrigue.

“What if Kentucky went out and got three guys who didn’t work in the SEC to take with them,” Rutledge said. “What do you think the (SEC) staff would think? ‘You don’t think our officials are competent?’

“We’re going to catch criticism no matter what we do.”

Referees are so used to second-guessing, that questions about conflict of interest produce a shrug. “That’s a day at the beach,” Rutledge said.

For UK’s trip to the Bahamas, make that seven days at the beach.

Former University of Kentucky basketball star Tony Delk opened a rehabilitation center Thursday.

Medicine man

TV commentator. Producer of a personal line of wines. Author of a new memoir titled “Shooter.”

Former UK All-American Tony Delk’s busy post-basketball life hit another milestone Thursday. That’s when the Tony Delk IMAC Regeneration Center held its official opening celebration.

The center, which is at 2537 Larkin Road in Lexington, provides non-surgical treatments for painful conditions that restrict movement. Those include arthritis, ligament tears, joint and back pain, sports injuries and pain associated with aging.

“IMAC (Integrated Medicine And Chiropractic) is 18 years old,” said Jeff Ervin, the company’s CEO. “We have never prescribed opioids. We’re really proud of that.”

Delk, who played a starring role on UK’s 1996 national championship team, is the third high-profile athlete to become associated with IMAC centers. Pitcher David Price and shortstop Ozzie Smith have their names on centers in the Nashville and St. Louis areas, respectively. There are also centers in Murray and Paducah.

Of naming centers for Delk, Price and Smith, Ervin said, “the branding strategy is to take an accomplished athlete of local fame to make the public aware of non-surgical treatments that are available.”

Delk, 44, has been a client. He got treatment on both Achilles tendons in June before joining former Tennessee star Dale Ellis and WNBA players Mistie Bass and Sydney Carter on a tour of eight U.S. military bases in Europe. At each stop, they played soldiers in four-on-four games.

“I wanted to make sure I was up to running ...,” Delk said. “By the time the tour started, (the tendons) were still a little bit sore. But by the time the tour ended (on July 25), my Achilles both felt really good.”

Memorable trip

Last week’s note about UK basketball’s foreign trips should have included Rupp’s Runts going to Greece, Israel and Iran in August 1966.

Larry Conley recalled the team practicing outdoors in Greece. A strong wind blew shots off target.

“Coach (Adolph) Rupp got mad as hell,” Conley said. “He’d say, ‘What’s the matter with you guys? Did you learn not to shoot anymore?’”

Conley said he turned to assistant coach Harry Lancaster for support.

“He just said, ‘Go on (shooting),’” Conley said.

In Israel, UK won the Maccabiah Games championship. Two Marine guards at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv happened to be from Kentucky. The guards arranged a “hell of a party” at the embassy to celebrate, Conley said.

The winning continued in Iran. “I don’t think they have an Iranian over 5-6,” Conley said.

But the most vivid memory involved the team’s tour of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Fourteen years later, the Iranians invaded that embassy and took hostages.

“I can remember sitting at home and looking at all the coverage,” Conley said. “I can remember us going to that embassy and just walking around. And they had all these pictures on the wall. I thought, ‘Man, I’ve been all through that place.’”

Downsized BBN?

Could there be a limit on the interest the Big Blue Nation has for Kentucky basketball? That thought came to mind while attending autograph sessions for former UK players at Fayette Mall on Tuesday.

Only nine people were in line at Wildcat Wearhouse when a session with Derek Willis and Isaiah Briscoe was scheduled to start.

An hour later at AllSports, 40 people were in line when a session with Jarred Vanderbilt began.

Matt DeLorenzo, whose company PPS Sports arranged the session with Willis and Briscoe, cited timing as a factor. In late July-early August, fans might be vacationing or using money for school supplies, he said.

“The players will always fare better with the turnout the closer it is to the season,” DeLorenzo said. That meant sooner after a season ends or just prior to an upcoming season.

Kathleen Smith, whose company, Athlete Essentials, arranged the session with Vanderbilt, cited two other factors.

“The (2017-18) team did not connect with fans,” she said. And, she added, a season-ending loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16 dampened enthusiasm.

Happy birthday

To Mike Pratt. He turned 70 on Saturday. ... To Daniel Orton. He turns 28 on Monday. ... To James Blackmon. He turns 54 on Tuesday. ... To Mark Coury. He turns 32 on Wednesday. ... To former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson. He turns 81 on Wednesday.