After his team offered Kentucky a major test in Rupp Arena on Friday night, Southern Illinois Coach Barry Hinson provided the entertainment during his post-game press conference.
UK defeated SIU, 71-59, in game that the Salukis led for 19 minutes and 31 seconds — and by as much as seven points midway through the second half. On his way to the post-game podium, Hinson spotted coal executive and Wildcats mega-donor Joe Craft standing to the side, gave him a big hug, and then turned to the assembled reporters: “I coached Joe Craft’s son in high school!” Hinson shouted. “That makes me half-blue, doesn’t it!”
Hinson noted as he took his seat that Carbondale — where SIU is located — doesn’t have its own “Joe Craft Center,” the Wildcats’ practice facility named for the man he had just bear-hugged, and then he launched into a full-throated endorsement of Lexington.
“Our basketball team has been in this community for a little over 24 hours,” Hinson said. “I can’t tell you — I’ve been coaching 38 years — I don’t remember a time that I have been in a community that we were treated better than the treatment we have received in Lexington. That’s a compliment to not only this university, but also this region and to the people, specifically in this day and age where we try to draw a line in everything.
“But I cannot even begin to tell you, wherever we went to eat, wherever we went out, people were wishing us good luck. I was telling them they were a bunch of liars. But, people were really, really nice and we want to thank you for the hospitality.”
Hinson, whose veteran team gave Kentucky a fight three nights after the Wildcats were shellacked by Duke in the season opener, then preached patience for another young team coached by John Calipari, a man who has been his friend for more than 30 years.
“When you coach 18, 19, 20 year olds… let me give you this analogy: When I was growing up there used to be a cartoon character called Marmaduke,” Hinson started. “Marmaduke was just a big puppy, and Marmaduke was always making mistakes, but Marmaduke was just a funny, big puppy. And, a lot of times it takes us awhile to get these young guys to play the way we want to get them to play.
“Now, Big Blue Nation, I’m going to talk to you for a second. You need to read the book of Job; you need to have a little bit of patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day. These guys are 18, 19, 20 years old. And, you have children, you have children of your own. And, you want to microwave the maturation process and you can’t do that. It takes time. So back off and let these guys go through the maturity process and let Coach Calipari do what he does best. And by March, you’re going to have something on the floor that you’re going to be really proud of.”
After asking reporters if anyone has ever come into the Rupp Arena press room and “gotten on Big Blue Nation before,” Hinson was asked why he was so certain the Cats would live up to preseason expectations and be a major player come March.
A former member of Bill Self’s staff at Kansas and a head coach at Oral Roberts and Missouri State before that, Hinson pointed to Calipari as a primary reason that UK fans should remain believers in a team that was ranked No. 2 nationally in the preseason and still has a wealth of young talent.
“The first thing that makes me sure is the guy that’s sitting over there on the sideline driving the bus,” he said. “He’s one of the finest coaches — that’s hard for a Kansas Jayhawk to say that, too. The second thing is I’ve seen those guys. I’ve seen those guys play high school. I’ve seen those guys play AAU. I know how good they can be. I just think it takes time.
“You can’t microwave maturation, it just doesn’t happen. No matter how much you stick Tyler Herro in a microwave, he’s not going to get older faster. He’s just going to have to play through it. And they will. They’ll be OK.”