UK Men's Basketball

How mad is Cal's Madness idea?

New Kentucky coach John Calipari set no precedents last week when he proposed that Big Blue Madness be moved to Commonwealth Stadium.

"That discussion has been had," Brooks Downing said last week. "In 1989."

Downing, who later became UK basketball's sports information director, was an intern in the athletic department that momentous year.

Chris Cameron, then UK's sports information director, noted an interesting parallel. The arrival of a new coach, then Rick Pitino and now Calipari, spurred athletic administrators to consider moving Madness to the football stadium.

"That was an exciting time with Rick on board," said Cameron, now an athletic media administrator at Boston College. "At that point, everybody thought the sky was the limit."

Ironically, the sky was the limiting factor. UK athletic officials feared the weather. It could be too cold or wet or both in mid-October to stage an outdoor basketball event. The players would be put at risk, a factor Calipari cited last week. Also the floor could be damaged.

"The over-riding factor was weather," Cameron said. "We had to be pragmatic. It was just too big a risk."

Cameron recalled the fun in thinking about such an event. As with many things during that heady time, Pitino inspired the fun.

"When I look back on that year, I actually am grateful to Rick," Cameron said. "He pushed us out of our comfort zone. He made us think outside the box. Rick fostered that mentality of thinking big. Nothing was off the table."

Well, almost nothing. After the administrators got serious about a Madness at Commonwealth Stadium, Downing recalled Pitino recoiling at the suggestion.

"Are you crazy?" he said (as Downing recalled). "What if somebody slips and falls? Are you crazy?"

Larry Ivy, then the No. 2 man in UK's athletic department, recalled two other issues: possible damage to the football field and the fact that the field has a crown. "You'd have to make sure the (basketball) floor was level," he said.

In throwing out the idea of an outdoor Madness, Calipari acknowledged potential problems, most notably the possibility of temperatures in the 30s.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart noted how Calipari's comments gave the idea "legs." But the concept of Commonwealth Stadium playing host to Madness remains problematic, at best.

"It's a wonderful idea," Barnhart said before adding, "There are a lot of logistical issues."

He noted how UK needed to show respect for Rich Brooks' football team, which is coming off three straight seasons capped by bowl victories.

By NCAA rule, Madness can be held on Oct. 16 this year. The football team is at Auburn on Oct. 17. Then there are home games the following three Saturdays: against Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State and Eastern Kentucky.

UK president Lee Todd applauded Calipari's "big idea" mentality. And, Todd added, Calipari's arrival — like Pitino's 20 years ago — inspires big ideas.

"I'm worried about how we're going to satisfy the appetite for Big Blue Madness if we don't have a football stadium full of people," Todd said. "Because everybody is going to want to go."

Summertime blues

During his news conference on Wednesday, UK Coach John Calipari renewed his call for the end of summer recruiting. He suggested that recruiting be confined to the time when prospects are in high school.

"I'd like to be like a father," he said. "Be at home."

Instead, college coaches must be at July camps watching prospects play in glorified pickup games. In some cases, the coaches already have evaluated the prospects.

"I end up being a cardboard cutout," Calipari said. "They tell me what gym to go to, and I end up doing a presidential wave. (The prospect) sees me. I see him. He sees me watching him as I see him watching me."

Calipari acknowledged that programs with small recruiting budgets like the summer camps because they can watch a lot of prospects in one trip. But the UK coach suggested such schools — and he repeatedly cited Morehead State as an example — would benefit if the NCAA abolished summer recruiting. Their prospects would not be as exposed to coaches from the big conferences.

"Who am I to disagree with Coach Calipari?" Morehead State Coach Donnie Tyndall said.

Tyndall said summer recruiting has plusses and minuses for schools like Morehead State. It saves money to do one-stop shopping. But, as Calipari noted, Morehead State risks losing a prospect if a bigger program captures his attention.

Given a choice, Tyndall would choose to continue summer recruiting.

"At our level, it's invaluable," he said.

Many schools simply don't have the recruiting budget to travel to watch high school players in game after game.

Nice guy Cal

Another so-called mid-major coach, Gardner-Webb's Rick Scruggs, agreed with Donnie Tyndall. Even with its flaws, summer recruiting is a must for programs of that size.

Scruggs noted another benefit besides the financial savings in seeing many prospects at one setting. If mid-major programs must confine their recruiting to high school games, they'll see fewer prospects play fewer times, he said. That means more guesswork, more recruiting "mistakes" and more transfers.

"I truly believe that with all my heart," he said.

The always engaging Scruggs led Gardner-Webb to a memorable victory at UK at the beginning of the 2007-08 season. That victory earned the Bulldogs a trip to New York, where Scruggs rubbed shoulders with, of all people, John Calipari.

The Gardner-Webb team followed Memphis for a practice session at the New Jersey Nets facility.

"He treated us like royalty," Scruggs said of Calipari. "He came over and hugged me. He talked to my wife for 10 minutes. He was so down to earth. I thought he'd be a big-timer."

Making amends

John Calipari's quick acceptance of the Lexington Rotary Club's invitation to speak in October served as one of many examples of how he embraces his job's public component. It stood in contrast to his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, who snubbed the club, thus breaking a tradition of coaching appearances dating back at least to the 1950s.

Reader Tom West suggests another way for Calipari to polish UK basketball's image.

"Now that Coach Cal has shown — in no uncertain terms — that he, unlike his predecessor, 'gets it' and understands where he is coaching, do you think we might see him make up for what I believe was a worse snub than the Rotary Club?" West wrote in an e-mail message. "I am referring to the buyout of the UMass game and disrespect for former Kentucky great Travis Ford."

UK exercised its contractual right to buy its way out of a return game against UMass in Boston in the 2007-08 season after the Minutemen played in Rupp Arena the previous season. Ford now coaches for Oklahoma State.

"Obviously, I am not suggesting UK play UMass at Boston as planned," West wrote, "(but) rather really make amends with Travis, who was treated horribly by UK. ...

"I think within the next few years, UK should call Travis and offer to come to Stillwater and play OSU. To show the sincerity of the move, UK shouldn't propose a home and home, just agree to go there and play. Of course if Travis wanted to come to Rupp, it would be great to see him coach again. But UK should go there first, given our track record with him and the 'home-and-just-kidding' series contract with UMass."

West, 45, works in Frankfort for the Education & Workforce Development Cabinet. He grew up in Danville and attended UK in the 1980s.

"I just think it would show the class that I have always expected of UK," West wrote, before adding, "that is, of course, until Coach Head Case came on the scene two years ago."

Pondering popularity

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart pondered his newfound popularity as he spoke at a Friday ground-breaking for an addition to the Lighthouse Ministries, a mission on Elm Tree Lane.

"Seven weeks, eight weeks ago, I probably wouldn't have been invited to speak here," he told the audience. "There (were) people who wanted me to find a new job.

"Eight weeks later, boy, I've got invitations to the Derby, 'We're gonna go places; 'We're having fun again.'

"And why?"

Because, of course, he hired John Calipari as UK's basketball coach.

"With all due respect to Coach Cal, my value in a lot of people's eyes is driven by one man," Barnhart said. "Unfortunately, it's the wrong man. OK? The value that we drive has gotta be from Jesus Christ and the value we gain is through that.

"And that's sort of been my message. I'm the same guy today that I was eight weeks ago. That hasn't changed."

Roughneck Rondo

Last week, syndicated columnist Norman Chad wrote about why he dislikes the Boston Celtics. This included a swipe at a former UK standout.

"Then there's Ragin' Rajon Rondo, emerging as a top point guard and a top punk artist," Chad wrote. "In the Bulls series, he stuck out his leg to trip Kirk Hinrich in Game 5, smacked Brad Miller across the mouth later in Game 5 and flung Hinrich into the scorer's table in Game 6. A friend of mine excused each act as 'borderline dirty.' Feh! Before becoming a Celtic, I believe Rondo was a bagman for John Dillinger."

Happy birthday

To former Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson. He turns 46 today.

Peterson's coaching career came full circle on Monday when he was re-introduced as coach at Appalachian State. He started there 13 years ago, and quickly became a hot commodity. After stops at Tulsa, Tennessee and Coastal Carolina, he returns a different man.

"Then you probably had a real strong ego because you were young and crazy," Peterson said on Thursday. "You try to catch that shooting star for a quick trip to the moon. Now, I'm more looking for an opportunity to make a difference and make a lasting impression.

"Back then, you want to coach against the best. To know what it's like. Now you've been there. So your thinking is a little bit different. Yeah, you're going to continue to work hard. But to sit there and think about that next job, I'm not thinking of that."

Peterson's ascent as a coach stalled at Tennessee, where his four-season stint quickly faded from memory as Bruce Pearl's round-ball lollapalooza blossomed.

After leaving Tennessee, Peterson landed at Coastal Carolina. Concerns about facilities (Kimbel Arena seats 1,039) led him to the Charlotte Bobcats, where his former roommate at North Carolina, Michael Jordan, hired him as Director of Player Personnel.

Peterson did not leap at any chance to return to coaching. He passed on opportunities to explore positions at Toledo and Mercer last year.

When Appalachian State called, "It was more about getting personal affairs in line," he said.

Peterson and his wife, Jan, did not want to uproot their 17-year-old daughter, Nicole, as she finishes her junior year of high school. He also considered whether the move made sense financially. The Petersons have two other children, Olivia, 12, and Rob, 11.

Ultimately, Peterson took the job, a decision that includes a 230-mile commute from the family home in Charlotte to Appalchian State in Boone, N.C.

For now, Peterson is working two jobs: coach at App State and Director of Player Personnel for the Bobcats through the June 25 NBA Draft.

All the driving led Peterson to drop a hint for a birthday gift: either a GPS device or Sirius satellite radio for his car.

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