UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Arizona basketball helped healing

A gunman kills or wounds 19 people. Survivors are rushed to a university hospital down the street from the arena. Your basketball team is scheduled to play a regionally televised game later that day.

How do you handle this situation?

There was nothing in the manual to guide first-year University of Arizona Athletics Director Greg Byrne last weekend.

Byrne, once an associate athletics director in charge of marketing at UK, learned almost immediately what had happened. A gunman shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head. She was among 13 wounded. Six others were killed.

One of Byrne's assistants, Rocky LaRose, was a friend of Giffords. LaRose told him of the shooting, which happened about 2 miles from Byrne's home. Two nights earlier, Byrne's wife, Regina, had picked up their older son in that same parking lot.

Byrne notified University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton. He then called Tom Jernstedt, a retired NCAA vice president and a man in on the decision to play the 1981 NCAA Tournament championship game despite the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan earlier in the day. Jernstedt noted the significant difference when the shootings occur in the same city as the game.

Byrne also called his father, Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne, the second-longest tenured A.D. in the nation. While athletic director at Oregon, the elder Byrne had to deal with a sniper shooting indiscriminately near the football stadium.

Out of respect to the victims and their families, Byrne postponed Arizona's game with Stanford until Sunday. He also didn't want fans on the day of the shooting clogging the street the McHale Center shares with the University Medical Center.

Stanford officials, from Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby to basketball coach Johnny Dawkins, pledged their cooperation no matter what Byrne decided. Fox, which was to televise the game, did the same.

At the game Sunday, Shelton addressed the crowd. There was a moment of silence before tipoff.

"In hindsight, we were really glad we made that decision," Byrne said of the postponement. "Playing the next day was a great opportunity for the community to come together."

Sketchy UK (part II)

Last week's note about the Web site Bleacher Report listing the 25 "sketchiest" programs generated comment. Of course, much was centered on UK being No. 3 on the list.

Why give space to such a list? Because it reflects how UK basketball is perceived by a segment of the college basketball world. Not everybody views Kentucky with reverence, and it's healthy to acknowledge that.

Writer Luke Dykes is a college student at (gasp!) North Carolina, which led to assumptions that his comments on Kentucky were invalid. Why? Does being a UK fan automatically disqualify someone from commenting on North Carolina?

"I don't have any feelings when I see them play," Dykes said of UK last week. " ... I don't cheer against any teams."

Then he added, "If people cheat, I don't particularly enjoy seeing them win."

Dykes said Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl "kind of sketches me out a little bit."

Dykes, 19, is a sophomore majoring in biology and interested in exploring sports journalism as a possible career. He grew up in Kansas City, but, in part, because his mother attended UNC, he has always rooted for the Tar Heels.

Dykes is one of several unpaid college students who write for Bleacher Report.

"Our mission, in addition to being an entertaining, successful site, is to help develop young writing talent," editor Adam Hirschfield wrote in an e-mail. "With an emphasis on undergraduate journalism students and other passionate sportswriters. And to help up-and-coming sportswriters trying to become viable in the ever-changing world of digital media."

Hirschfield assigns Dykes most of his stories, including the one about sketchiest programs.

The record of UK basketball and Coach John Calipari is what it is. Dykes wrote about Kentucky with noticeable restraint.

"I don't think what I said was anything extreme," he said.

Dykes said he found only one sketchy bit of history involving North Carolina. "When they instituted the shot clock because we ran the 'four corners,'" he said.

Tree pointer

An Oregon-Southern Cal game in mid-January sounds ho-hum. But not this year.

When the teams played Thursday, Oregon used the occasion to unveil its new court. The new floor is covered by images of fir trees, homage to the environment of the Pacific northwest and Oregon's 1939 team known as the Tall Firs. That team won the first NCAA Tournament. The floor also has images of other Oregon images.Oregon Athletics Director Rob Mullens, the former No. 2 man at UK, has called the new floor "iconic."

Coach Dana Altman had a more pragmatic opinion. "Hopefully, it doesn't confuse our players," he said.

The Oregon-Southern Cal game had another distinctive quality. It was the first game in Oregon's new Matthew Knight Arena, which cost a reported $227 million to build. That compares to its predecessor, McArthur Court, which cost $185,000 in 1926, and was paid for entirely by $15 student fees.

"We probably have an underwater treadmill that costs as much as the old building," Mullens quipped.

While acknowledging a few Oregon fans have wondered if the floor is too busy, Mullens said the floor works for his school and state. Keep in mind Oregon's unique array of football uniforms, which Mullens said is popular with prospects.

"We get it right out of the (Nike) labs," he said. "From Beaverton to Eugene and then to the NFL.

"There's a pioneering spirit that dates back to the origins of Oregon. Innovation is very important here. People here aren't afraid to be different."

Targeting Cal?

During ESPN's telecast of the Connecticut-Texas game, analyst Dick Vitale gave voice to the thought that the NCAA made Enes Kanter permanently ineligible because Kentucky's coach is the organization's nemesis, John Calipari, who has had two Final Four appearances vacated. Vitale suggested Kanter would be playing — or have been dealt a less-sweeping punishment — if he attended another school.

New NCAA president Mark Emmert scoffed at that suggestion when asked for comment by Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's ridiculous," said Emmert, who intended to speak with Vitale late last week. "By all accounts this is a very talented basketball player, but yet there were very few schools recruiting him. Why was that? Because everyone understood that there was a very large probability that he was not going to be deemed eligible. This has nothing to do with Kentucky or Coach Calipari. It has to do with a clear rule and a clear set of facts."

Ejecutor Eloy?

What's the Spanish word for enforcer? It's ejecutor.

That's how Eloy Vargas looked in a memorable rebound tussle in the Auburn game. The Rupp Arena crowd cheered as the usually non-combative Vargas insisted on taking possession of the ball.

"That's our crowd trying to help coach this kid," UK Coach John Calipari said. "That's our crowd knowing, 'Eloy, you got to get balls.' ... He grabbed a ball, they gave him a standing ovation."

The crowd knew UK needed such assertive play from Vargas and it would enable him to play more minutes, Calipari said.

It's also important for UK fans to know when not to encourage the Cats with cheers.

For instance, Terrence Jones. Calipari called for heady UK fans to cheer when he rebounds above the rim.

When Jones makes a three-pointer? "Don't say anything," the UK coach advised. "... If he goes and rebounds and blocks (shots), everybody goes nuts."

Double dip

Jan. 8 was a dark day for Kentucky sports fans. The UK football team lost to Pittsburgh in a bowl game, and the UK basketball team lost at Georgia.

That double dip prompted a question: Had UK's football and basketball teams lost on the same day previously?

Yes, it happened once before. On Nov. 19, 1988, UK's football team lost to Tennessee 28-24 and UK's basketball team lost to Duke 80-55 in the old Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass.

Losing to Tennessee and Duke on any one day must make last weekend's double dip a bit easier to take.

Kanter fatigue

Before the NCAA denied Kentucky's appeal, thus making Enes Kanter permanently ineligible, fan Bill Robinson sent an e-mail saying too much attention had been paid by UK to the freshman's plight.

"Kentucky needs to get this Kanter thing out of their minds," wrote Robinson, 60, an optometrist in Somerset. "He will never be allowed to play and shouldn't be. He was a professional!!! It's a distraction and hurting the development of the players that we have. I'm disappointed in Coach Cal for letting it get to this point.

"And for (John Calipari) to say to the press a few days ago that it was now his 'job' to help him become a professional, what is that all about? It's his job to coach UK players. And he gets paid pretty well for it."

WAC-ky West

Jerry Palm, the guiding light of the Web site, compiles the Ratings Percentage Index numbers for teams and conferences. He seemed like the right person to ask where the SEC's Western Division would rank if those six teams represented a separate conference.

Palm's answer: As of the middle of last week, the Western Division would rank as the 16th-best conference. That's between the Western Athletic Conference and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Top teams in the WAC are Utah State, Boise State, Idaho and New Mexico State. Top teams in the MAAC are Fairfield, Rider, Iona and St. Peter's.

When asked to put the SEC Western Division's RPI in perspective, Palm wrote, "For a major conference? Pitiful is the right word. Auburn may be the worst team ever from a major conference — or certainly in my lifetime. ... It will be surprising if any team from that division, with the possible exception of Ole Miss, gets an at-large bid to the tournament."

On the road again

Because of the winter storm that rolled through the Southeast early last week, Georgia bused to its two road games. That meant a 245-mile trip from Athens to Nashville for Wednesday's game at Vanderbilt. Then a 275-mile trip from Nashville to Oxford for Saturday's game at Ole Miss.

If the Dawgs had bused home from Oxford to Athens, that would be 450 more miles. The total would be nearly 1,000 miles.

Fortunately for Georgia, the team flew home after Saturday's game.

Except for metro Atlanta, the Georgia team did not face any hazardous driving conditions. I-24 from Chattanooga to Nashville was open road and full speed ahead. To pass the time, the players watched a movie and then the SEC weekly show on ESPNU that had a feature on the Bulldogs.

Because a plane was not available after the Vandy game, Georgia Coach Mark Fox decided to stay in Nashville and bus straight to Oxford on Friday. While in Nashville, Georgia practiced at Lipscomb.

The players were expected to miss less than two full days of classes.

Pitino donates

Former LSU coach Dale Brown heads a non-profit organization that sought to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"I sent out letters to prominent people," he said. "The same week, Rick Pitino sent a $5,000 check."

Happy birthday

To Shagari Alleyne. He turned 27 on Friday.