When Xavier Henry cancelled a visit to Kentucky, that seemed to spell the end of UK's chances. How often does a prospect commit to a school he hasn't laid eyes on?
OK, it happens. And more frequently than you might think.
Although Henry ultimately committed to Kansas, heredity suggested he might come to UK sight unseen. The first time older brother C.J. Henry saw Memphis was when he reported to school as a walk-on.
Then there's the unusual story of Carl Henry, the players' father. He played for two seasons at Oklahoma City University. When the school fired his coach, Carl Henry transferred to Kansas.
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How closely did he inspect the Kansas campus and basketball program?
"I didn't," he said. "I just went to school."
The elder Henry knew he wanted to play in the Big Eight Conference. The two in-state possibilities, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, did not offer him a scholarship, something he remembered 25 years later when his sons looked for a school.
"They didn't want me," he said. "That's one reason my sons didn't go there. You didn't want me back then, so I'm quite sure you don't want my kids."
As Carl Henry had not seen the Kansas campus until he arrived, so he was a mystery to the Jayhawks coaches. Then Coach Ted Owens told Henry there was no available scholarship.
Undeterred, Carl Henry simply showed up one summer day and played pickup games with the varsity players.
His play prompted a question from onlookers and KU players: who is this guy?
"When I showed up the next day, they had a scholarship for me," Carl Henry said.
Let that be a lesson to fans who count scholarships and worry whether Kentucky will be able to add another standout. Where there's a will ...
Kansas got quite a player in Carl Henry. He led the Jayhawks in scoring in the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons. In those two seasons, he scored 1,044 points and served as team captain. As a senior, he led Kansas in steals and was named All-Big Eight. By the way, Carl Henry played against Kentucky twice. On Dec. 29, 1982, he scored 10 points in UK's 83-62 victory in Louisville. On Dec. 10, 1983, he scored six points and committed seven turnovers in a 72-50 UK victory in Lawrence.
Needless to say, Carl Henry traveled a far less celebrated path to Kansas than his sons'.
"I tell my kids they have it easy," he said.
Say no to Nike?
UK fan Ben Adams hopes change doesn't stop with the hiring of John Calipari as coach.
"While we're at it, let's make a clean break from Billy G. and get rid of those God awful uniforms!" he wrote. "Get some decent shorts!"
"By decent, I mean an average length, not so ridiculously long and coupled with those tight, form fitting jerseys, looked particularly comical," he wrote in a follow-up message. "I heard everything from parachute pants, to bloomers to skirts, to culottes. I think the aesthetic designs were great, but the sizing was silly. Hopefully, Calipari or the players themselves will bring some sanity back to their uniforms.
"I'm sure some people will disagree with me, but ... sometimes it's actually OK to say 'no' to mighty Nike. I think you can design a great looking uniform and still be practical about it."
Adams, 57 and self-employed, calls Pineville his hometown. He now lives in Lexington.
Challenging the system
Recently, Jeremy Tyler, an 11th grader in San Diego, decided to skip his senior year of high school to play professionally in Europe. This prompted a commentary by Frank Deford on National Public Radio.
Deford applauded this break with custom.
"Football players don't really have any choice but to go to college and fatten themselves up for the NFL, but a trickle of independent-minded young basketball players are beginning to challenge the system," Deford said. "Of course, they have to leave the idealistic, capitalistic United States for socialistic old Europe to make an honest living, but a couple have already dared to be pioneers."
Deford noted how Brandon Jennings played in Rome this season rather than attend a college for a year while waiting to be eligible to enter the NBA. Jennings struggled, but still gets projected as a lottery pick.
Now Tyler plans to play in Europe rather than finish high school. Of course, in Europe club teams and schools are separate entities.
"Naturally, some coaches and NCAA sycophants are bewailing this turn of events," Deford said. "But that's to be expected. It's just like it was in the pros when players first brought in agents or fought for free agency. The guys in charge always want to subjugate athletes, maintain their own sweet advantage.
"The case of American college football and basketball is all the more egregious now because coerced amateurism has everywhere else been discredited. The two high-profit American team sports are the only rotten boroughs left, and we can root only for the young players brave enough to challenge an antiquated system."
For the fun
Syndicated columnist Don Kaul usually writes about politics. But last week he wrote about the late Mark Fidrych, who for one season captured the imagination of baseball fans by what he accomplished as an unknown rookie and, more importantly, how he played the game.
"For that single season, he was baseball itself, the kind of baseball we played as kids, when we'd start in the morning, play through the afternoon and evening (with lunch and dinner breaks and changing lineups) until darkness forced us inside," Kaul wrote. "It was baseball played for the sheer love of it and for the fun. ...
"Compare that attitude with so many professional athletes today — sullen, unsmiling, ready to believe that everyone is against them — an attitude that filters down to colleges and high schools. Kids don't play games for fun anymore. They play to prove they're good enough to win a scholarship or grab the professional brass ring. They get lessons, they have coaches, they play in organized leagues in games supervised by adults. They have organized practice, are told when to show up and when to leave.
"They don't have to develop a sense of fairness because they have umpires and referees and, anyway, what does fairness have to do with winning?"
Either out of the top 25 or in the top 10.
That's how fluid Kentucky basketball seems heading into next season, according to ESPN's Andy Katz. Last week, he left UK out of his top 25 projection for next season. But that could change dramatically depending on what happens to the roster.
"If (Jodie) Meeks and (Patrick) Patterson aren't coming back, how can you put them in the top 25 with the current roster of really only inexperienced players like (Daniel) Orton and (DeMarcus) Cousins?" Katz asked via e-mail.
"If Meeks and Patterson come back, with the recruiting class, I'll shoot them into the top 15. If one comes back, then they'll definitely be in the top 25. But I don't see how, at this moment, with neither player on the roster, and (John) Wall not committed yet, either, how you can put Kentucky in the top 25 based on who is on the roster at this moment."
Katz plans to do another top-25 projection after June 15, the deadline for players to withdraw from this year's NBA Draft.
If Meeks and Patterson return? "I may have Kentucky at No. 10!!" Katz wrote.
As for now, here is his top 25: 1. Kansas, 2. Michigan State, 3. Texas, 4. North Carolina, 5. Purdue, 6. Villanova, 7. West Virginia, 8. California, 9. Michigan, 10. Duke, 11. Butler, 12. Oklahoma, 13. Clemson, 14. Tennessee, 15. Washington, 16. Minnesota, 17. Dayton, 18. Ohio State, 19. Illinois, 20. Gonzaga, 21. Syracuse, 22. Boston College, 23. Tulsa, 24. Pittsburgh, 25. Siena.
By the way, Katz included Mississippi and Mississippi State with UK as teams with a chance to be solid top-25 teams.
Ole Miss must await a return from injury from several players, most notably point guard Chris Warren. State needs the return of Jarvis Varnado (entered NBA Draft) and the addition of McDonald's All-American Renardo Sidney.
Rondo baseball star?
Last week, columnist Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe wrote that former UK point guard Rajon Rondo is one of two rising young sports stars in Boston. The other is Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ryan wondered whether Rondo, starring for the Boston Celtics this NBA playoff season, and Ellsbury could excel at the other's sport.
"Not only can I visualize it, I have seen it," Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge told Ryan. "When we drafted (Rondo), we brought him into Boston, and we had a company softball game. You cannot believe how far he hit the softball with those long arms and that great leverage. And in center field, he had a gun.
"There is no question he'd be a great center fielder, or a shortstop, for that matter. I mean, he had a cannon for an arm."
To former UK point guard Anthony Epps. He turns 34 on Monday.