UK Men's Basketball

Louisville a losing proposition for Cal

John Calipari's boffo debut season as Kentucky coach has not been without missteps. For example, his idea to play more than one game in Louisville each season. To gain a stronger recruiting foothold, he suggested a separate season-ticket package of games in Kentucky's largest city.

It isn't difficult to find people who say the UK coach needs to re-Cal-culate that one.

As UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said, "Coaches speak without knowing the ramifications."

Perhaps playing more games in Freedom Hall will help UK recruit players from Louisville. Perhaps. But more is at stake than a coach looking for every advantage he can get.

Bill Owen, the CEO of Lexington Center Corp., cited a Matrix Group Study commissioned in 1997 when UK officials wondered aloud about constructing a new on-campus arena. The study said playing in Rupp Arena, UK's downtown basketball home, meant $1.3 million per game in economic impact to Lexington.

Owen also noted Freedom Hall has no attached mall, so playing in Louisville will mean forfeiting the revenue generated in the Civic Center shops and surrounding businesses.

That would include sales taxes, Owen said, "so it's a greater benefit for the local community, but also the state."

Larry Bell, the general manager of the Hyatt, noted how his employees benefit from the games played in the pre-conference portion of the schedule. Salary and tips help with holiday shopping.

Noting how fans can avail themselves of the bars and restaurants in the Hyatt and Civic Center shops, Bell slyly said, "A good portion of the Big Blue Nation likes to be properly prepared for each game. We like to do our part in helping the Big Blue Nation get ready for the game."

Jim Sawyer, owner of a restaurant that bears his name in Triangle Center (formerly known as Festival Marketplace), said he can make three days' worth of revenue in the three hours of a UK basketball game.

Not that other events in Rupp Arena lack money-making potential. Sawyer said a Miley Cyrus concert last year generated the revenue of three UK games. The four days of the Sweet Sixteen high school state tournament equal half a UK season.

But Sawyer's objection to Calipari's idea of UK "home" games in Louisville extends beyond the bottom line.

"It almost sounds silly," he said. "UK plays basketball at UK's home court. I'm flattered to have Calipari, but I'm not interested in him taking his team to Louisville. For financial reasons, and just for the fact UK is in Lexington, not in Louisville."

Barnhart said accommodating fans who attend games in Rupp Arena was a "top priority."

Then there's that proposal to build a new arena in downtown Lexington. Two separate consulting firms are studying the feasibility of an arena that, as envisioned by proponents, would use the revenue it generates to pay off construction costs.

Wouldn't that necessitate playing every possible game in a new downtown Lexington arena to pay the building costs?

"Absolutely," Barnhart said.

Thoughtful Cal

In late October, doctors diagnosed an incurable neurological disease afflicting her mother. Two weeks later, her father would have a birthday.

What gift could a daughter give her father in this circumstance?

Jennye Morano, a 1994 UK graduate, hit on the idea of having John Calipari call to wish her father a happy birthday and maybe offer a few encouraging words to her mother.

"Even though we knew what the outcome would be, the power of positive thinking couldn't hurt," Morano reasoned.

Still actively involved with her alma mater, Morano put in her request through UK's Alumni Office.

And at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 11, the phone rang in Neil Stiegelmeyer's home in Union, Ky. Stiegelmeyer, a former official in the Fayette County school system, answered the phone and heard someone say, "Hello, this is John Calipari."

To which Stiegelmeyer said, "Who?"

Morano, still chuckling at the memory, explained. "It wasn't for lack of knowledge," she said. "It was for lack of hearing."

Once the caller's identification got cleared up, Calipari wished Stiegelmeyer a happy birthday. The UK coach also spoke to Barbara Stiegelmeyer, a conversation she would recall when much of her memory had been lost in the fog of disease.

"Why did it stick in her mind? I don't know, but it did," Morano said. "It stuck when she couldn't remember her grandchilden."

Barbara died Dec. 1.

The memory of Calipari's call means a lot to Morano. She sent a thank you note to the coach, who replied with a hand-written message to her father.

Of Calipari's call to her parents, Morano said, "Ten minutes for a gentleman whose schedule is that insane can be a lot of time. It will forever sit in a wonderful place in my heart."

'Flat Cal'

Marian Moore Sims, a former elementary school teacher, wanted to share a story about a second-grader in Nashville and UK Coach John Calipari.

The boy, Jack Gold, had been given an assignment in his second-grade class to make a replica of Flat Stanley and mail it to someone in the world. Flat Stanley is a popular book about a boy who becomes flat and can be mailed across the country and enjoy adventures.

Jack asked his mother and father whether he could send his Flat Stanley to Calipari. Anticipating the UK coach would be too busy to respond, Jack's parents secretly sent a duplicate Flat Stanley to a relative, who could be counted upon to answer with an appropriate adventure.

After a week or so, nothing returned from the UK basketball office. The family braced for Jack's disapointment. Then one day Jack's father announced the mail included a package for the second-grader from UK.

A beaming Jack ripped open the package and found a report of Flat Stanley's adventures in Lexington with Calipari, including pictures of Flat Stanley with the coach and UK players.

Sims wanted it known that Calipari made Jack a happy little boy and a hero to his second-grade class.

Sims learned about the story from Jack's grandmother. "She told me the story with tears in her eyes because it meant so much to the little boy," Sims said.

By the way, Jack is the grandson of Joe Dan Gold, an All-American for Mississippi State, something Calipari did not know, Sims said.

Telethon

During a Friday give-and-take with reporters, UK Coach John Calipari said there would be a 90-minute telethon to raise funds for earthquake-ravaged Haiti on Lexington's WKYT-TV Sunday (noon to 1:30 p.m.).

Calipari suggested competing stations air the telethon.

"I hope other channels will play this," he said. "It's more than just about TV stations. It's about people, young people and young kids who lost everything, in many cases whole families."

Mike Kanarek, vice president for broadcast operations at WKYT, agreed with a reporter's suggestion that Calipari might have been naive (or brassy?) to propose that other Lexington channels sacrifice their programming for the cause.

Interior decorating

After seeing the photograph of Travis Leslie rising high to dunk over UK's DeMarcus Cousins, Georgia requested a copy.

The Herald-Leader provided a copy.

Georgia intends to blow up the photo to poster size and use it to decorate its basketball offices.

Hangover

It's as big a part of UK basketball tradition as star players and rabid fans. Opponents gear up to play Kentucky, then suffer a letdown in the next game.

After his team lost 80-76 to Mississippi, Georgia Coach Mark Fox said, "It was a hard-fought game. I thought we had an emotional hangover from that Kentucky game. ... We got some energy back and made it a battle, but you have to give Ole Miss credit because we had a terrible time guarding them."

Isn't it ironic?

UK Coach John Calipari made no secret of the metaphorical line in the sand he drew for Darius Miller: Either play harder and mix it up. Or sit on the bench.

In noting how he shared this approach with reporters, Calipari said, "This is a transparent program."

A moment later, Calipari departed for another practice closed to the media.

No Cats?

For all the player-of-the-week awards won by UK players, there's one exception. No Cat has won the United States Basketball Writers Association Player of the Week award yet.

The winners so far are Notre Dame's Luke Harangody and BYU's Jimmer Fredette in January, plus West Virgnia's Devin Ebanks, Duke's Jon Scheyer and Butler's Gordon Hayward in December.

One member of the USBWA board of directors selects its national player of the week each week.

Selflessness

Former UK and NBA player Mark Pope is selfless and egoless as a staffer for the Georgia program. For the trip to Kentucky for last weekend's game, he loaded the players' bags on the team plane by himself.

Just part of the regular duties, Pope said.

Space available

On his blog, sportswriter Mike Griffin of the Knoxville News Sentinel noted a billboard on I-40 that once had Tyler Smith's picture on it has been covered up. So, Griffin wondered, what should Tennessee to do with the space?

Griffin proposed the team's only senior, Wayne Chism, as the most worthy of going on the billboard.

"But," Griffin suggested, "if the Vols are looking for the safest route, perhaps they should do a collage of former stars Dane Bradshaw, Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson with a darkened silhouette and the question: Who's Next?"

Beating No. 1

When Tennessee beat Kansas, it marked the first time the Vols had beaten a No. 1 team since a 69-62 victory over Rupp's Runts on March 5, 1966.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the 1966 game drew a crowd of 7,500. That's about a third of the number that watched Tennessee beat Kansas.

Congratulations

Lexington's Jim Host will be among six to be recognized in March as champions, pioneers and/or innovators by the SportsBusiness Daily and SportsBusiness Journal.

The publications want to recognize leadership and longtime contributions to the sports industry.

Of course, Host practically invented (or at the least refined) college-sports marketing when he launched Jim Host & Associates in 1972. The company grew to become a nationwide multimedia-rights business.

Other honors in March go to USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, facility architect Ron Labinski, former Women's Sports Foundation CEO Donna Lopiano, TV sports executive Neal Pilson and sports marketer Tony Ponturo.

Ex-coaches surface

Former Georgia Coach Dennis Felton was among the contingent of NBA scouts attending the UK-Florida game.

Felton is scouting for the Phoenix Suns.

He said he hopes to return to the sidelines. Meanwhile, Felton is enjoying a break from coaching.

And former Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried worked the UK-Georgia game as a television analyst. Like Felton, he said he enjoyed the break but wanted to return to coaching at some point.

Happy birthday

To the sixth-man extraordinaire on UK's 1978 national championship team. James Lee turns 54 today.

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