UK Men's Basketball

To renew or not renew: Kentucky fan makes tough decision on season tickets

Ranking the top 10 teams of the John Calipari era at Kentucky

No. 1 should be obvious. After that, see if you can guess how the Lexington Herald-Leader Sports staff ranked the other nine Kentucky teams of the John Calipari era.
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No. 1 should be obvious. After that, see if you can guess how the Lexington Herald-Leader Sports staff ranked the other nine Kentucky teams of the John Calipari era.

If the name is not immediately familiar, Wayne Lyster owns Ashview Farm, a 350-acre Thoroughbred operation in Versailles. He chaired the Kentucky Racing Commission from 1992 to 1996.

“Horses and Kentucky basketball, I love them both,” he said on Wednesday.

But he decided this summer to not renew his Kentucky basketball season tickets.

“Our schedule seems to get weaker and weaker and weaker,” he said. “And I’ve just basically had enough of the weak schedules.”

More than once, Lyster stressed that he remains a UK fan. He will continue to watch games and root for the Wildcats.

“I love University of Kentucky basketball,” he said. “I love my university.”

Actually, Lyster is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in business. He described himself as a longtime UK basketball fan and a “very major contributor” to the school’s Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Although he considers reliance on one-and-done players less than ideal, Lyster said he is a fan of UK Coach John Calipari. He understands that UK must be wary of overloading schedules its freshman-dependent teams must play.

“I’m 100 percent behind Coach Cal,” Lyster said. “I love Coach Cal. I think he’s fantastic. He’s charismatic.

“But I’m not in love with the home schedule.”

To review: Louisville and Georgia Tech headline UK’s non-conference home schedule for 2019-20. Other opponents in Rupp Arena will be EKU, Evansville, Utah Valley, Mount St. Mary’s, Lamar, UAB and Fairleigh Dickinson. Those nine teams had a final NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) average last season of 178.1. Louisville (No. 22) is the only opponent with a final NET in the top 100.

For comparison sake, Duke’s non-conference opponents for home games this coming season had a slightly less combined final average NET of 180.7. North Carolina’s opponents had a collective NET of 117.6 and Kansas’ opponents 150.3.

Lyster, 71, likened UK’s home non-conference tickets and the price for season tickets to a high-end restaurant charging big bucks for national chain-restaurant food.

“Some restaurants are more expensive than others, and you get a better meal …,” Lyster said. “I’m getting expensive tickets, and less for my money as far as quality of the other schools we’re playing at home.”

Lyster said he has not bought his tickets through UK. He said he has gone through a secondary market, paying about $13,000 for two lower-arena tickets near the court. “They’re wonderful seats,” he said, “and wonderfully expensive, but all worth it when we’re playing someone, I guess, decent.”

Lyster is a former basketball player. Back in the day, he was on the same Bourbon County team as future UK player Jim LeMaster. LeMaster was the star, Lyster among the bench warmers. Adolph Rupp coming to a game to watch LeMaster play made Lyster a UK fan for life.

For several years, Lyster has pondered whether to continue buying season tickets.

“I keep telling my wife, ‘I’m not going to buy these tickets,’” he said. “And every year I do. And I looked at this year’s schedule and I said, ‘You know what, I’m not doing it.’”

This decision was not easy to make, in part, because Lyster and his wife have nine grandchildren.

“I’m going to miss not taking a couple of the older ones that are 11 and 12 to a couple of games,” he said. “They had such a great time. I hate giving that up. But it’s such a weak schedule.”

Schedule maker

Deputy athletics director DeWayne Peevy heads the effort to put together UK’s basketball schedule. He stressed that UK is mindful of the fans’ desire for marquee opponents in Rupp Arena.

“I talk to Duke and North Carolina probably every year just to see, to gauge their interest (in a home-and-home series),” he said. “See if things have changed. But they are not interested.”

Duke and UNC confirmed having conversations with UK.

The ongoing Champions Classic and CBS Sports Classic events at neutral sites complicate such a home-and-home series since UK plays Duke in the former and North Carolina in the latter.

UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner noted how the Tar Heels’ scheduling is affected by the ACC expanding its league schedule this coming season. “With 20-game league schedules, we don’t think we can schedule as many of those types of home-and-home series anymore,” he wrote in an email.

Kentucky has put a priority on playing a team from a so-called Power 5 conference in Rupp Arena, Peevy said. A Dec. 14 game against Georgia Tech will mark the fifth straight season for such a game. That will follow Arizona State in 2015-16, UCLA in 2016-17, Virginia Tech in 2017-18 and Utah in 2018-19.

Trying to give fans attractive opponents is one of several factors that go into scheduling, Peevy said. Because men’s basketball (along with football) basically fund UK’s athletics teams and department, UK wants as many home games as possible and can’t be too choosy about finding opponents.

And, as mentioned earlier, there’s a caution against overloading a freshman-dependent team. With Peevy working on schedules a year in advance, he cannot be sure of what players will be on the team.

Maui or London?

John Calipari has hinted about Kentucky playing a game in London (England) next season. DeWayne Peevy declined to say who the opponent might be.

But a question came to mind: Calipari has cited the long trip to Hawaii as a reason he does not want UK playing in the Maui Invitational. But London is five time zones to the East while Maui is the five time zones to the West. So why is London attractive, but Maui not?

Peevy explained. London would be one game. Maui means three games, possibly all against quality opponents. That can be too heavy a load in November for UK’s freshman-dependent teams.

“Young kids need confidence, too,” Peevy said.

Remembering Marco

Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart’s announcement Thursday that UK will not expand alcohol sales to all fans in 2019-20 brought to mind the tragedy of last September. A 4-year old boy, Marco Lee Shemwell, died in an alcohol-rated incident outside a UK football game.

Before Barnhart’s announcement, the Shemwell family issued a statement in response to a request for its opinion on UK possibly expanding alcohol sales. It came from Marco’s parents, Ben and Liz Shemwell. It read:

“As we approach what would have been Marco’s 5th birthday, along with the anniversary of his passing, we continue to focus on our family and our healing. We appreciate the ongoing support from the community as we remember Marco and honor his life.”

Marco would have turned 5 years old this coming Aug. 25.

Happy birthday

To North Carolina Coach Roy Williams. He turned 69 on Thursday. … To Mike Pratt. He turns 71 on Sunday (today). … To Daniel Orton. He turns 29 on Tuesday. … To James Blackmon. He turns 55 on Wednesday. … To incoming freshman Keion Brooks. He turns 19 on Wednesday.

Looking ahead

With this coming week set aside for more of a personal offseason, here are upcoming happy birthday wishes:

To Mark Coury. He turns 33 on Aug. 8. … To former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson. He turns 82 on Aug. 8. … To Randy Embry. He turns 76 on Aug. 9. … To Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. He turns 91 on Aug. 9. … To Sacha Killeya-Jones. He turns 21 on Aug. 10. … To UK assistant coach Tony Barbee. He turns 48 on Aug. 10. … To UK special assistant John Robic. He turns 56 on Aug. 10. … To Jason Parker. He turns 39 on Aug. 10. … To Kevin Knox. He turns 20 on Aug. 11. … To Gerald Fitch. He turns 37 on Aug. 12. … To Antoine Walker. He turns 43 on Aug. 12. … To Jim LeMaster. He turns 73 on Aug. 12. … To DeMarcus Cousins. He turns 29 on Aug. 13. … To Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He turns 60 on Aug. 14.

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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