UK Men's Basketball

‘Valueless product.’ Fans question quality of Kentucky’s home opponents.

Kentucky fans hold pep rally before Sweet 16 game against Houston in Kansas City

Kentucky fans gather for a pep rally to cheer on the Wildcats before their NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game at No Other Pub in downtown Kansas City.
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Kentucky fans gather for a pep rally to cheer on the Wildcats before their NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game at No Other Pub in downtown Kansas City.

After digesting Kentucky’s recent announcement of its non-conference opponents next season, fan Tony Jackson sees the home schedule as UK selling “a valueless product.” He was moved to send an email suggesting that pressure from the media might lead to more attractive opponents in Rupp Arena.

“I know you guys may not be able to have direct influence,” he wrote to several Herald-Leader sportswriters. “But if you’re able to have any influence with articles, reports or contacts, PLEASE HELP! Everyone who sits around me at Rupp feels the same.”

Coincidentally, another fan, Tom Atkinson, sent an email in which he labeled 2019-20 home opponents Eastern Kentucky, Evansville, Utah Valley, Mount St. Mary’s, Lamar, UAB and Fairleigh Dickinson “a group of teams that should be playing down the street at Transylvania.”

Exaggeration aside, UK season tickets are not cheap. The price range per seat next season for the lower level goes from $1,400 (plus a $1,000 donation to the K Fund) to $1,500 (plus a $5,000 donation to the K Fund). The upper level range is $950 (no K Fund donation required) to $1,400 (plus a $1,000 K Fund donation).

Thomas, who grew up in Lexington and graduated from UK with a degree in architecture, acknowledged that fan complaints about Kentucky’s home opponents are an annual rite. He said he has been told to stop whining and not renew his season tickets. He can’t do that.

“Big home games at Rupp are WHAT I LIVE FOR (outside of family, of course),” he wrote in an email.

UK’s non-conference home schedule will include home games against two opponents with healthy name recognition: Louisville on Dec. 28 and Georgia Tech on Dec. 14. The latter starts a two-game home-and-home series that will see UK play Georgia Tech in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena on Nov. 27, 2020.

Not enough, Atkinson and Jackson said. Neutral site games — which next season feature UK against Michigan State in Madison Square Garden, and against Utah and Ohio State in Las Vegas — pour salt in some fans’ wounded feelings. They want to see Kentucky play neutral site opponents, including Kansas, North Carolina and Duke, on a home-and-home basis. UK has not played Duke in a regular-season game in Lexington since 1969, and not at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1958.

“It is a crime that Duke and Kentucky are not playing home and home every once in a while,” Jackson wrote. “Home crowd fans deserve that. Are we afraid?”

In terms of evaluation for NCAA Tournament bids and positioning, there’s no reason for UK to be Scaredy-Cats. According to the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), two victories over Duke at a neutral site would carry no greater value over a two-season span than victories at Rupp Arena and Cameron Indoor Stadium. Winning a road game is worth 1.4 victories, winning on a neutral court one victory and at home 0.6 victories, NCAA spokesman David Worlock said in an email.

Kentucky’s college basketball peers play few non-conference opponents on a home-and-home basis. North Carolina will continue home-and-home series at UNC Wilmington and Gonzaga next season. Duke’s only recent non-conference home-and-home series was against St. John’s the last two seasons. Home-and-home series take Kansas to Villanova and Stanford next season.

In terms of neutral-site games, Duke plays Kansas, plus California and either Georgetown or Texas. North Carolina plays UCLA in Las Vegas and the Battle 4 Atlantis event. In addition to playing Duke, Kansas also plays in the Maui Invitational.

Among Southeastern Conference teams, home-and-home series in the non-conference are more prevalent. For instance, Georgia has four such games next season: against Georgia Tech, Arizona State, SMU and Memphis. Arkansas plays at Western Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia Tech, plus there’s a home game against Colorado State. South Carolina, which plays Clemson annually, completes a home-and-home at Virginia next season. The Gamecocks wrapped up home-and-homes with Wyoming and Michigan last season.

Meanwhile, Atkinson, who has had season tickets since Rupp Arena opened in 1976, said he frequently sells his tickets and watches the games on television.

Jackson said he sometimes can’t give away tickets if UK is playing a nondescript opponent.

“I love Rupp,” he wrote in an email, “and I want Rupp tickets that are exciting and make me ‘circle-the-date.’”

Macy follows up

Just another day in the Big Blue Nation when someone laments UK’s reliance on one-and-done players or calls for a resumption of the series with Indiana or questions John Calipari’s contention that the 2010 NBA Draft was the greatest day in the history of Kentucky basketball.

But when an iconic former UK player says such things, people take notice.

Kyle Macy, the point guard on UK’s 1978 national championship team, found himself in that scenario after a July 18 interview on the Indianapolis-based radio show “Query & Schultz.”

In a follow-up telephone conversation, Macy said the reaction to his comments “made a lot out of nothing, really.”

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Kyle Macy said last week he harbored no ill will toward John Calipari or the current UK basketball program despite comments he made during a recent radio appearance. Rob Bolson

Macy, who laughed as he called himself “old school,” spoke plainly on the radio show. He said UK basketball should be seen as an educational opportunity, not as “a training ground for the pros.” He called UK-IU “too good a series not to be played” and “coaches need to put their egos aside” to make it happen. And he said a national championship, not an NBA Draft, should be the pinnacle for a college program.

But Macy said what drew the biggest reaction was him saying he did not feel welcome at UK practices.

“I probably didn’t state it right,” Macy said during the telephone conversation. “Maybe ‘unwelcome’ wasn’t the right word. Maybe just ‘uncomfortable.’ Just the fact that I don’t really know anybody.”

Macy cited another factor. The late Bill Keightley, the longtime equipment manager affectionately known as “Mr. Wildcat,” is no longer part of the program.

“When he was around, a former player could go by, stop, talk to Bill,” Macy said. “He’d kind of take you into practice and introduce you.”

During the radio show, Macy said he harbored no ill will toward the reinvented UK program nor Calipari.

“Times change,” he told the radio audience. “I’m OK with that. I was blessed the time I had and the things that worked out for me here. And I’m more than happy with that. I’m not bitter about anything by any means.”

Casablanca

Former UK player Mike Flynn turns 66 on Wednesday. A Google check of his biography revealed a surprise, at least for me. He was born in Casablanca.

Flynn said in a follow-up telephone call that his father was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in the Moroccan city. A few months after the future UK player was born at the base hospital, the family moved to the United States.

“So I’m a real African-American,” Flynn quipped.

Yes, Flynn said, he has seen the classic movie “Casablanca.”

“Oh, it’s a great movie,” he said. “One of my favorites. I like Humphrey Bogart.”

Counter programming?

North Carolina basketball will be the subject of a multi-part series to air on the ACC Network during the 2019-20 season. Practices, games, team bonding activities, pick-up games and the Late Night with Roy (Williams) Midnight Madness show will be part of the series.

Filming has begun for the series, which will be titled “All Access: A Season with Carolina Basketball.” The ACC Network, which falls under the ESPN umbrella (as does the SEC Network) launches Aug. 22.

Although having lost the top five scorers from last season, North Carolina expects to have a highly ranked team.

Of course, Kentucky has been the subject of so-called all-access series. During one such series, we learned what cinema verité means.

Congratulations

To former LSU guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. The school announced on Monday that it will retire his No. 35 jersey during a game-day ceremony next season.

Abdul-Rauf, who was known as Chris Jackson during his LSU career (1988-89 and 1989-90), scored 1,854 points and averaged 29.0 points. In his first season, he averaged 30.2 points, and remains the only freshman in college basketball history to average 30 or more points.

Abdul-Rauf will become the fifth basketball player to have his jersey retired by LSU. He will join Bob Pettit (No. 50), Pete Maravich (No. 23), Rudy Macklin (No. 40) and Shaquille O’Neal (No. 33).

Abdul-Rauf is also known for pre-dating Colin Kaepernick by 20 years as an athlete who staged a symbolic protest during the national anthem because he saw the U.S. flag as a symbol of oppression.

Happy birthday

To former Georgia and UCLA coach Jim Harrick. He turned 81 on Thursday. . . . To Steve Clevenger. He turns 73 on Monday. . . . To Gene Stewart. He turns 74 on Wednesday. . . . To Hamidou Diallo. He turns 21 on Wednesday.

2019-20 UK schedule

Games and events officially scheduled at this point (home games in all capital letters). UK’s non-conference schedule is complete. The SEC schedule will be announced at a later date:

Oct. 11: BIG BLUE MADNESS, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18: BLUE-WHITE SCRIMMAGE, 7 p.m.

Oct. 27: GEORGETOWN COLLEGE, 5 p.m.-x

Nov. 1: KENTUCKY STATE, 7 p.m.-x

Nov. 5: Michigan State-1

Nov. 8: EASTERN KENTUCKY

Nov. 12: EVANSVILLE

Nov. 18: UTAH VALLEY-2

Nov. 22: MOUNT ST. MARY’S-2

Nov. 24: LAMAR-2

Nov. 29: UAB-2

Dec. 7: FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON

Dec. 14: GEORGIA TECH

Dec. 18: Utah-3

Dec. 21: Ohio State-4

Dec. 28: LOUISVILLE

Jan. 25: At Texas Tech-5

1-Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York; 2-BBN Showcase at Rupp Arena; 3-At T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas; 4-CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas; 5-SEC-Big 12 Challenge; x-Exhibition game.

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