With a noticeable lack of fanfare, the Southeastern Conference made history last week at what was called the SEC Men's Basketball Tipoff '16. For the first time, freshmen were among the players available for interviews.
LSU's Ben Simmons, the preseason choice for SEC player of the year, and Mississippi State's Malik Newman made this ... what? Breakthrough? Or maybe they were the inevitable first players at the annual gathering who reflected how college basketball has become younger. And how, more than ever, the game is fixated on maximizing the bottom line.
That no one trumpeted this example of the brave new world was interesting. So, too, that Kentucky, which has become synonymous with freshmen, was not the trailblazer. Skal Labissiere would have been perfect for this role, but he would have faced a barrage of eligibility questions.
As mentioned in this space previously, it wasn't too long ago that coaches shielded freshmen from the spotlight.
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"People say, 'You brought a freshman here today,'" Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said in acknowledging the contrast with yesteryear. "Well, yeah. The SEC wanted me to. ESPN wanted him here."
Simmons and Newman are perceived as stars who give the league attention and ESPN viewers.
Howland, who said he had a similar experience with freshmen at UCLA, marveled at how Newman's star power had energized State's fan base.
"Believe me, the ticket people at Mississippi State are very pleased about it," Howland said. "Because he is selling tickets."
Of course, LSU based its campaign to sell season tickets on Simmons' arrival. Coach Johnny Jones spoke matter-of-factly about LSU "taking advantage of a guy who is as marketable as a Ben Simmons."
Newman, a McDonald's All-American from Jackson, Miss., seemed to enjoy being at the SEC's promotional gathering in Charlotte.
"It's exciting just to be around this atmosphere," he said. "To be around some guys who have already done this. For the team to want you to be here, I think that (says) a lot."
Simmons seemed relaxed and poised, deftly handling a question about being considered a one-and-done player.
"Right now, I'm thinking of playing my first game," he said. "I haven't played a college game yet, and I have all this attention. When that time comes, we'll see what happens."
At the SEC Media Day on Wednesday, new Alabama Coach Avery Johnson didn't need help recalling when his basketball career first crossed Kentucky's path. He played against the Cats in the 1988 NCAA Tournament.
Johnson played point guard for Southern in a closer-than-it-appears 99-84 first-round loss to UK in Cincinnati.
Here are the particulars: Johnson made one of six shots and scored two points. But his nine assists equaled the high for a UK opponent that season.
"And Rex Chapman, after the game, told me, he said, 'I'm going to the pros,' meaning he was," Johnson said. "'And maybe you might have a chance.'"
Johnson laughed at the memory. After a productive playing career in the NBA, Johnson coached the San Antonio Spurs to the 1999 NBA title. He was named NBA coach of the year in 2006.
When a reporter asked whether that exchange with Chapman made a lasting impression, Johnson said. "It stuck with me. Yeah." Did he mean that it put a chip on his shoulder? "Yeah, a little bit," he said.
Then-UK assistant Dwane Casey also spoke to Johnson after the game and suggested that Kentucky focused its defense on him.
"It seemed like I had three guys on me the whole game," Johnson said. "And they were all big trees. Ed Davender. Big Rob Lock. Every time I drove to the basket. Winston Bennett. Rex Chapman."
In assessing how good former Kentucky All-American Anthony Davis can be, his NBA coach suggested historically good.
"Obviously, I think he can be one of the all-time great players who've ever played in this league," New Orleans Coach Alvin Gentry said before the Pelicans played the Sacramento Kings last weekend in Rupp Arena.
Gentry cited Davis' size (listed at 6-foot-10) and speed (relative to other players of his size), plus one other less-obvious attribute.
"His knowledge of the game," Gentry said. "That's where people really don't understand. He's got a really good knowledge of the game for a 22-year-old."
It's easy to forget that Davis is 22 and would be an NBA rookie if all college players stayed in school four years.
Gentry mentioned another intangible.
"He's just all about the team," he said of Davis. "He's all about winning. Usually with the great ones, that's the first thing they think about: the team.
"When you add all those things together, barring an injury, he can be one of the best all-time great players to ever play this game."
Gentry likened Davis to Kevin Garnett. "Who is one of the all-time great ones," he said.
One reason Davis figures to be better than ever this season was reflected in his broader shoulders and noticeably more muscular upper arms. Davis has added 15 pounds.
When asked about a stronger-looking Davis, Gentry smiled and said, "He was pretty good as a skinny guy, wasn't he?"
Gentry has talked about Davis being more of a three-point shooting threat this season. This led to an increasingly common part of sports fandom: overreaction.
"Everybody took it to mean we were going to make him Steph Curry," Gentry said. "We're not going to have him shoot 15 threes in a game or anything like that."
UK is good
Not exactly a stunner to hear anyone say Kentucky will be good this season. After all, UK is a co-No. 1 in the coaches' preseason poll.
But Anthony Davis is a believer.
"They're going to be pretty good," he said last weekend. "Of course, they didn't showcase much (at Big Blue Madness) because they don't want to get hurt. But I'm pretty sure Cal (John Calipari) is going to get them ready."
While talk of "brand" fills (fogs?) the sports world, former UK standout Rajon Rondo is a breath of fresh air. Whether you like it or not, Rondo gives a blunt response.
For instance, he rode a hoverboard off the court when the Sacramento Kings finished practice the day of the exhibition game against New Orleans. After the game, he showered, dressed and got on the board to ride out of Rupp Arena.
When a reporter pointed out that Rondo could walk, Rondo replied, "I don't need to walk."
Rondo lamented that bad news sells and something like the recent remembrance of the Million Man March gets relative scant recognition. "The world thrives on bad news," he said. "That's why I don't watch television." He also said he doesn't read newspapers.
Because he can be blunt, it sounded genuine when Rondo expressed gratitude for how UK and basketball changed his life.
"My kids may grow up and come here," he said of UK. "You never know. I have a great relationship with Cal."
'Simple and sound'
After telling reporters that his Arkansas women's team has five freshmen and three other newcomers, Jimmy Dykes quipped, "Only John Calipari has fewer returning minutes than we do."
Dykes, who begins his second season at Arkansas, said he learned as a rookie coach that less can be more.
"Be really, really good at a few things as opposed to just OK at a lot of things," he said of the primary lesson he learned. "We maybe tried to do too much."
His team played good defense, using man-to-man for all but three possessions, Dykes said. His team struggled on offense.
"We tried to do 47 different things on offense," he said. "Be simple and sound in what you're doing."
Three names recently in the news that beg for a pronunciation guide:
■ Skal Labissiere. UK's star freshman pronounces his last name La-BISS-ee-Air. It is not La-BISS-ee-A. I've made this mistake.
■ John Calipari. UK's coach pronounces his last name Cal-a-PEAR-ee. It is not Cal-a-PAR-ee. The ESPNU telecast of UK's Pro Day made this common mistake.
■ Louie Dampier. The former UK star pronounces his last name DAM-peer. It is not DAM-pea-err. No surprise that his wife, Judy, said her husband's go-along-to-get-along philosophy extends to how his name is pronounced. "Louie has answered to many variations through the years," she wrote in an email.
Quiet as a Cat
UK fan Lisa Collins is from Mount Washington, hometown of forward Derek Willis. At Big Blue Madness, she said he had a connection to the UK player.
"My girls went to school with him and worked at the Value Market with him," she said.
So what impression did Willis make on her daughters?
"Quiet," she said.
To the family of Ken Burger, longtime sports columnist with the newspaper in Charleston, S.C., The Post and Courier. He died Tuesday, two days before he would have turned 66.
Burger attended Anderson (S.C.) College, then, as he put it, "studied abroad" at the University of Georgia, where he graduated last in his class of 1973.
I didn't know Burger well. I spoke to him only occasionally. But he was well known in sportwriting circles as a witty and engaging writer.
A mention of his name in any group of sportswriters usually led to a retelling of his most famous lead to a story. Not everyone appreciated the intended humor. It supposedly led one angry college coach to berate Burger.
The story began:
"I love women.
"I love basketball.
"I hate women's basketball."
To Dan Issel. He turns 67 on Sunday (today). ... To Bob Knight. He turns 75 on Sunday (today). ... To Transy Coach Brian Lane. He turns 48 on Sunday (today). ... To Hugh Durham. He turns 78 on Monday. ... To Andrew and Aaron Harrison. They turn 21 on Wednesday. ... To Stacey Poole. He turned 24 on Saturday.