UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Brennaman says Reds fans booing Calipari 'ludicrous'

John Calipari chatted with Reds Manager Dusty Baker before throwing out the first pitch Tuesday night. Fans booed the UK coach, prompting a scolding by announcer Marty Brennaman.
John Calipari chatted with Reds Manager Dusty Baker before throwing out the first pitch Tuesday night. Fans booed the UK coach, prompting a scolding by announcer Marty Brennaman. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Last week proved again that Kentucky basketball can't avoid controversy. Even something as mundane as baseball's ceremonial first pitch became controversial when UK Coach John Calipari did the throwing before the Cincinnati Reds' game against San Francisco on Tuesday.

When the Reds introduced Calipari, boos could be heard. This prompted Marty Brennaman, the Reds' Hall of Fame play-by-play man, to scold those who booed.

"We're a regional franchise," Brennaman said later in a telephone conversation later in the week, "and Kentucky is a very important part of that region. I said, 'You people ought to be ashamed of yourselves.' "

As Brennaman recalled, the Reds have recognized teams in the region at least as far back as 1999, when John Cooper and Jim O'Brien, Ohio State's football and basketball coaches, respectively, took bows.

Of course, the Reds invited Calipari to throw out the first pitch because Kentucky won this year's NCAA Tournament.

For whatever reason, the invitation was unpopular with some people.

"That's just stupid," Brennaman said. "For people to get upset over it, it's the most ludicrous thing that I've ever heard of."

Seldom shy about speaking his mind, Brennaman also criticized Kentucky fans, presumably those living in Northern Kentucky, in particular, for not attending the Reds-Giants game Tuesday in greater numbers.

"All I hear about is Big Blue Nation, and Big Blue this and Big Blue that," he said in recalling his on-air comments. "I said, I'm frankly surprised and disappointed at the number of Kentucky fans who showed up at the ballpark tonight knowing (Calipari) and his staff and the trophy were all going to be here.

"I guess you're Big Blue fans as long as you don't have to go into your pocket and buy a ticket."

Paul Daugherty, a columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer, attributed any objection to the Reds' recognizing UK basketball to Cincinnati's diverse sporting interests.

"It's just kind of indicative of who we are here," he said. "It's a very divided place."

Cincinnatians could root for the University of Cincinnati, Xavier, Ohio State, Indiana and other schools (Dayton? Miami?). UK is one of many options.

"The affections are very much torn," Daugherty said. "In trying to serve so many masters, sometimes you serve none."

The Reds merely sought to honor UK's achievement, and, as Brennaman suggested, sell tickets.

"For people to react the way they did is typical of Cincinnati," Daugherty said. "It shows a lack of grace on our part. What is so bad about at least being quiet while Kentucky is being honored for a pretty nice feat?"

Calipari's reliance on so-called one-and-done players fuels criticism. UK basketball's rich tradition creates jealousy, Brennaman said.

But fans venting on the occasion of a ceremonial first pitch?

Daugherty cited another possible reason for boos: radio talk-show hosts who seek to inflate ratings by inflaming listeners.

"They're idiots," he said, "and you can quote me on that."

Honor roll

UK basketball placed four players on the 2011-12 Winter SEC Academic Honor Roll. The four were Twany Beckham (communication major), Terrence Jones (communication), Darius Miller (community communication and leadership development) and Jarrod Polson (finance).

Of the league's basketball programs, only Mississippi State placed more players on the honor roll. Five State players made it.

Among notable players on the honor roll were Vandy center Festus Ezeli (economics), Vandy reserve and Lexington Catholic grad Jordan Smart (English), Florida's Will Yequette (political science) and Patric Young (telecommunication), South Carolina two-sport player Bruce Ellington (sport and entertainment management) and Alabama point guard Trevor Releford (consumer sciences).

Overall, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama placed the most athletes on the SEC honor roll with 48 each. UK had the fourth most with 43. Then came Georgia (36), Tennessee (35), Auburn (34), Arkansas (33), Vanderbilt (26), LSU (25), Mississippi (12) and Mississippi State (nine).

'Unwelcomed intrusion'

Given how his three-year tenure as school president unfolded (unraveled?), it's easy to forget that David Roselle did not come to Lexington to reform UK basketball. He came with a mission to transform UK academics, a task he acknowledged went unfulfilled.

"I did not accomplish (pause before self-editing) I left unaccomplished" that goal, he said Tuesday in formally accepting UK's decision to name a dorm in his honor. He called the basketball scandal of 1988-89 an "unwelcomed intrusion."

But, he told an audience of about 100, "I recognized the responsibility" to deal with the scandal.

"Life is not fair," Roselle said, "but you're to blame if it's not interesting."

Roselle described the basketball scandal of 1988-89 as a time when "the honor, integrity and ethics of the University of Kentucky took center stage."

Roselle seemed to take pride in how the school dealt with the holdover players. While Chris Mills and LeRon Ellis were among players who transferred, others like Sean Woods, Deron Feldhaus, Richie Farmer and John Pelphrey stayed.

"We did not blame the sins of the adults on the kids," Roselle said.

More than once recently, Roselle noted how he tried to encourage the holdover players as UK faced embarrassing charges of rule breaking and the scary idea of revealing how its basketball program operated.

"I spoke to the players and said that someday they'd say they were pleased and happy to accept a scholarship to play for the University of Kentucky," Roselle said. "I also told them, 'I know today is not that day.'"

Fast forward to March, 1992, when Roselle, having become president of the University of Delaware, accepted then-UK coach Rick Pitino's invitation to speak to the players before the ill-fated NCAA Tournament game against Duke, the so-called Christian Laettner game.

Recalling his earlier talk with the players, Roselle told them, "Today is the day."

Roselle leftovers

Leftovers from the ceremony officially naming a UK dorm in honor of former president David Roselle:

■ UK President Eli Capilouto summed up the advice he received before taking office last year as "be faculty-centered like Dr. Roselle."

Capilouto said naming a dorm for Roselle was "popular and appropriate."

Roselle became a controversial figure when he ordered UK to cooperate with an NCAA investigation of the basketball program. Additionally, he launched an independent and unflinching review into how UK basketball conducted business.

The decisions made UK "a more honest institution," Capilouto said. "... In that tradition, we are working to do the right thing."

■ Of the faculty excitement generated by UK hiring Roselle in 1987, Cyndi Weaver Crocker (the UK student body president then), quipped, "I think a few burned their couches."

■ With UK seeking an increase in tuition, Weaver Crocker pointedly noted how it was important "not to shift costs to students." A UK education needed to be affordable to as many Kentuckians as possible, she said.

Britt Brockman, the chairman of UK's Board of Trustees, said that former president Otis Singletary described his job as "a conspiracy to give Kentucky a better university than it was willing to pay for."

■ Roselle helped set in motion a "climate of compliance" in UK athletics, Brockman said.

■ Noticeably absent from the ceremony were any current UK athletics department staffers. The Craft Center, which houses athletic administration and basketball offices, is one block away from Roselle Hall, where UK held the ceremony.

■ The ceremony served as a reunion. Many of those who lived through UK basketball's 1988-89 rule-breaking scandal attended.

This prompted master of ceremony Jack Blanton to liken the gray-haired crowd to "senior citizen shopping day at Kroger."

■ The plaque recognizing Roselle was on display. It contained 154 words/12 lines of biographical information. No mention is made of UK basketball.

'A mother's dream'

Reader Ann Witajewski wants to see UK retire Darius Miller's jersey. So she sent an email suggesting that last week.

"I'm sure there our many others that would like to see his jersey retired," she wrote. "I feel the wheels need to start turning."

Witajewski, whose sons played for Harrison County in the 1990s, has followed Miller's career at Mason County and UK.

"Darius is a mother's dream," she wrote. "What mother does not want to see her son/sons play for UK? He had his good games and his not-so-good games, but he was always there contributing in whatever way he could. I don't know if I could have been a 'good mother' seeing him ride the bench in his senior year. I would want a starting position for him but he would have proved to me he was willing to sacrifice for the team. How awesome is that!

"Darius never gave up, and I'm sure it will be an honor for him to look up and see his name and #1 in the rafters. He has my vote!!"

Witajewski, who lives in Cynthiana, is a native of Saginaw, Mich. She moved to Kentucky in 1977, and attended her first UK home game in 1978.

"I was instantly hooked on the excitement of UK basketball at Rupp Arena," she wrote.

'Special assistant'

Rod Strickland, who apparently decided to stay at UK rather than join Larry Brown's staff at SMU, has a nebulous job title: "special assistant to the head coach." Doron Lamb explained how Strickland, a two-time All-American at DePaul and a 17-year NBA veteran, acts as a wise counselor.

"Every time I had self-doubt, I'd ask him what I'm doing wrong," Lamb said the night he and four teammates declared for the NBA Draft. "Tell me something."

Lamb noted how he and Strickland share New York City as a hometown. He recalled playing in a Strickland-sponsored tournament in which participants received a book bag with school supplies.

"He was a big part of my decision to come here," Lamb said.


To UK video coordinator Tim Asher. The Collegiate Sports Video Association named him its 2011-12 Basketball Video Coordinator of the Year last week.

"The reason it means something is because it's given by your peers," he said. "The same people putting in long hours. It's not a popularity contest."

Asher just completed his 23rd season with UK basketball. He recalled his first season, 1989-90, working with first-year assistant Billy Donovan, in splicing together instructional VHS tapes. Now, computer editing makes it easier for video coordinators to fulfill the wishes of ever-demanding coaches.

A 1982 graduate of Morehead State, Asher originally aspired to be a radio disc jockey. His gravitation to athletics seemed inevitable given his father's 39-year tenure as an assistant coach on the high school level.

His father, Ralph Asher, died in January.

"In some ways, a bittersweet year," Asher said.

Happy birthday

To former UK assistant David Hobbs. He turned 63 on Wednesday. ... To former UK players Chris Harrison (he turns 39 on Monday), LeRon Ellis (he turned 43 on Saturday) and Dwight Anderson (he turned 52 on Saturday).