During last weekend’s celebration of Kentucky’s Final Four team of 1993, Rick Pitino was not the only person conspicuous by his absence.
Jamal Mashburn was no where to be seen. Not present at the reunion. Not included in video greetings by players who could not attend, such as Travis Ford and Tony Delk. What?! Mashburn was the team’s best player, the main reason for its success and arguably one of the most transformational figures in program history.
Brooks Downing, a student intern in UK’s sports information office at the time, credited Pitino, Mashburn and then Director of Athletics C.M. Newton as the three people responsible for Kentucky’s rapid recovery and return to prominence in the wake of a rule-breaking scandal in the late 1980s. “That’s what brought the program back,” Downing said.
UK wanted Mashburn at the celebration. UK consulted with Mashburn to find a date that fit his schedule. Apparently a problem arose deep in the planning.
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Mashburn could not be reached. But it’s widely known that he has receded from his basketball persona. He is a businessman.
“He doesn’t want to do any basketball-related interviews right now,” Mashburn’s business partner, Jonathan Sackett, wrote in an email. But Mashburn was open to talking about his business ventures, Sackett said.
After the first intrasquad scrimmage leading into Mashburn’s freshman season, Pitino made a startling statement: the multi-talented forward from New York could be the among the best players to ever play for Kentucky.
His former UK teammates remembered Mashburn fondly.
“We knew he was the best player on the team,” Dale Brown said. “I used to always brag on ‘Mash,’ and tell people back home how great it was to play with Jamal Mashburn, a guy I thought was one of the best players who ever played.”
Gimel Martinez, who roomed with Mashburn for three years, said he saw his roommate transform himself from a slightly overweight player with promise to an All-American.
The ultimate compliment at the time involved the difference between good and great players. The latter made their teammates better. By this definition, Mashburn was great.
Deron Feldhaus credited Mashburn with enabling The Unforgettables to make a memorable mark on Kentucky basketball.
“Shoot, he made us go,” Feldhaus said. “By getting Jamal, that was the main piece of the puzzle right there for us to have success. We were The Unforgettables, but he caused that. He made us better, that’s for sure.”
Business partner Jonathan Sackett recalled a thoughtful gesture Jamal Mashburn made.
“My parents live in Green Bay, Wis.,” Sackett said, “so they have a sports basement. It seems like everyone in Wisconsin does.”
Mashburn donated a framed autographed jersey to Sackett’s parents’ basement shrine to sports. Mashburn signed the jersey and an accompanying basketball trading card, “To my other family, the Sackett family,” Sackett said. “And my parents were, like, just delighted.”
During this holiday season, John Calipari has reflected on the crossroads that appear in life. The arc of a person’s life can dramatically change depending on which path is taken. Serendipity can make all the difference.
Former UK point guard Roger Harden shared an example of this.
During his time at Kentucky, Harden developed a friendship with then-UK Coach Eddie Sutton. He recalled the two going to Transylvania games to watch Scott Sutton play.
When Eddie Sutton became coach at Oklahoma State, he offered Harden a job on his staff. “He called me three or four times,” Harden said. “He actually flew me out there.”
Harden had a son living in Frankfort at the time. This made him hesitant about accepting the job at Oklahoma State.
“I just knew if I went out there, I’d be a part-time dad,” Harden said. “After I turned that job down, he hired a guy named Bill Self.”
When playfully asked whatever happened to this Bill Self, Harden laughed. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know how things turned out for him.”
Of course, Harden was joking. Self has led Kansas to 14 straight Big 12 Conference championships. He has been named National Coach of the Year three times and was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
Might that have been Harden, who became a high school coach? “I don’t say that,” he said. “My ego says I could have, but I have no regrets. I’ve loved fatherhood and being involved with my kids. I have absolutely no regrets about that decision.
“It’s one of those things that happen in life that you go, wow. I’m a Bill Self fan. Not a Kansas fan. But I like his stuff.”
It takes two
SEC Network analyst Pat Bradley is Arkansas’ career leader in three-point baskets. He pointed out that no shooter is an island.
“Your teammates have got to know when you want the ball, where you want the ball and how you want the ball,” he said.
Mike Pratt, the color commentator on radio broadcasts of UK games, suggested that improvement can come as Kentucky’s players become more familiar with each other.
“Maybe they’re trying to figure out the angles at the college level, which are dramatically different than the high school level,” Pratt said. “And figure their teammates out, too. Where do I pass the ball to so-and-so? Does he have a favorite spot he likes to receive it?”
Duke freshman Zion Williamson continues to capture the imagination of the college basketball world.
The New York Times led its sports section Wednesday with a story on Williamson. Its headline: “A Towering Young Talent, Having a Great Time.”
To try to capture Williamson’s game, sportswriter Joe Drape made references to Shawn Kemp, Charles Barkley and Paul Bunyan.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed out that Williamson played point guard until eighth grade, perhaps a reason for the ball-handling ability he possesses.
‘He is unique’
During a Dec. 3 telephone conversation, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas marveled at Zion Williamson’s combination of size and skill.
“He is unique,” Bilas said. “There has never been a player like him, and everybody can see it. Once you see him, your jaw is on the floor. It’s really hard to wrap your head around how big he is and then how explosive and nimble. ... He hasn’t run anybody over, and with a body like that, you think, well, he’s going to turn somebody over. ... He’s so laterally nimble, he gets around people.”
Bilas turned to football to describe Williamson’s mix of agility and power.
“It’s like he’s Barry Sanders in a Lawrence Taylor body,” Bilas said.
Julian Rice was not optimistic about Monmouth winning at Kentucky on Nov. 28.
“My 7-year-old told me, ‘Well, Dad, I don’t know if you can win this one because it’s Kentucky,’” Monmouth Coach King Rice said. “‘But after that one, you can win all the games.’”
Rice said he relayed Julian’s view to the Monmouth players.
“If we have to lose (at UK) and that makes us win five in a row, I think I’ll sign up for that one,” Rice said.
Of course, Kentucky beat Monmouth 90-44.
Julian’s childlike faith was not rewarded. In its four games since losing to UK, Monmouth has lost to Bucknell, Hofstra, Albany and Yale. That lowered Monmouth’s record to 0-12.
To De’Aaron Fox. He turned 21 on Thursday. ... To Jeff Brassow. He turned 48 on Thursday. ... To Eric Manuel. He turned 51 on Friday. ... To former Georgia Coach Ron Jirsa. He turned 59 on Friday. ... To Western Kentucky Coach Rick Stansbury. He turns 59 on Sunday (today). ... To Cliff Hawkins. He turns 37 on Christmas Eve. ... To former South Carolina Coach (and Lexington native) Darrin Horn. He turns 46 on Christmas Eve. ... To Rodney Dent. He turns 48 on Christmas Day.