UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: As usual, All-SEC ballot has Big Blue hue

Nerlens Noel was interviewed during the University of Kentucky basketball media day held on the practice floor in the Joe Craft Center on the UK campus in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, October 11, 2012. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Nerlens Noel was interviewed during the University of Kentucky basketball media day held on the practice floor in the Joe Craft Center on the UK campus in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, October 11, 2012. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

It's election season. No, not Barack Obama/Joe Biden versus Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan.

It's time to vote for something much more important: pre-season basketball all-league teams and predicted order of finish.

The Southeastern Conference set a Friday deadline for its pre-season media balloting.

With comments to follow, here's the ballot I submitted:

Predicted order of finish

1. Kentucky; 2. Tennessee; 3. Missouri; 4. Florida; 5. Alabama; 6. Arkansas; 7. Mississippi; 8. Auburn; 9. Georgia; 10. LSU; 11. Vanderbilt; 12. Texas A&M; 13. South Carolina; 14. Mississippi State

Comment: This exercise in basketball democracy should not be taken too seriously. Unlike the presidential election, there are no consequences. Once the season begins, the order of finish is strictly a meritocracy.

In John Calipari's three seasons as coach, Kentucky has won two SEC regular-season championships. UK's three-year league record of 40-8 easily surpasses the second-best mark in that span, 32-16 by Florida.

So to put Kentucky in first place is all but an automatic reflex. Talent over experience, as Calipari prefers, is a proven formula. What Rick Majerus once sarcastically observed is as true as ever: No one is holding a telethon to help Kentucky get more players. Then Calipari maximizes the potential.

Florida will probably finish No. 2 in the media balloting. But the loss of Bradley Beal and Erving Walker seems like a lot to overcome. Tennessee, which has four starters returning, figures to be the most physically imposing team in the league. Arguably, the Vols' only departed starter — Cameron Tatum — was their least important starter.

Newcomer Missouri is the SEC's most intriguing team.

The middle of the league — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M — seems like an eight-car pile-up.

South Carolina and Mississippi State begin rebuilding projects with new coaches Frank Martin and Rick Ray, respectively.

All-SEC team

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia; Nerlens Noel, Kentucky; Phil Pressey, Missouri; Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee; B.J. Young, Arkansas

Player of the Year: Noel

Comments: You could vote almost a straight Cats ticket (Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Noel). But the overall philosophy should be to spread the joy.

Missouri's Pressey, the son of former NBA star Paul Pressey, had 223 assists and only 85 turnovers last season. Those are Player of the Year numbers.

Tennessee had not one, but two strongmen to consider: Jeronne Maymon and Stokes. Maymon was more productive last season (12.7-9.6 ppg, 8.1-7.4 rpg). But former LSU coach Trent Johnson referring to Stokes as "Wes Unseld Jr." made a lasting impression. To see Wes Unseld Jr., is to see the Player of the Year.

Why go with Noel as Player of the Year? He's projected at or near the top of the next NBA Draft. That gauge worked well with John Wall and Anthony Davis.

Other players considered for All-SEC included Missouri's Alex Oriakhi, who has a national championship pedigree, and a personal favorite to watch, ever-busy forward/glue guy Will Yequette of Florida.

Rupp date update

The $3 million project to reconstruct Rupp Arena locker rooms continues. Bill Owen, Rupp's CEO and president, called it an attempt to "condense 10 months of construction into five months, and we're close."

Construction on two of the four locker rooms has been completed. A third locker room, which will serve UK opponents, is on schedule for a Nov. 1 completion, Owen said.

That leaves the UK locker room. Owen said he continues to look at Nov. 16 as the completion date. That's the night UK opens the home schedule against Lafayette.

So the locker room won't be finished when UK plays exhibitions against Northwood (Nov. 1) and Transylvania (Nov. 5). Nor will it be done for the Blue-White Game on Wednesday.

With air-conditioning units in place and wood paneling and lockers set to be installed, Owen expressed confidence that the locker room will be ready for the Nov. 16 opener.

No decision has been made about the color of the logo on the 2012 Final Four court being used in the locker room: Keep the logo's greenish color as a nod to historic accuracy or repaint it blue to maintain hue purity.

"Still under discussion," Owen said.

UK vs. Mavs

UK's oft-stated aim is to be the gold standard for college basketball. Presumably, the gold standard for locker rooms in the NBA would be the Dallas Mavericks. Owner Mark Cuban has a reputation for treating the players well.

Here's a few home locker room comparisons for UK and the Mavs:

Square footage: UK 6,000. Mavs 9,000.

Lounge area: UK large-screen TV. Mavs large-screen TV and pool table.

Lockers: UK wooden in a circular pattern. Mavs rectangular setup with each locker containing flat-screen monitors, DVD players and stereo equipment.

Auxiliary space: UK food service area. Mavs weight room.

Film study: UK separate tiered theatre. Mavs large-screen TV in locker room.

Full-sized practice court: UK on campus in Craft Center. Mavs short walk from locker room.

Training/rehabilitation: UK hydro therapy with separate "plunge tubs" holding hot and cold water. Mavs Hydro-therapy pool, plus hot and cold tubs.

Heart of a champion

Former UK player Walter McCarty will be among the performers at the Kentucky Theatre on Nov. 8. He's part of a Heart of A Champion unplugged concert, which will promote an upcoming film of the same name.

McCarty also performs on the movie soundtrack.

The Heart of a Champion movie is based on a true story about a man who made his mark through the Police Athletic League's boxing and mentoring program. The faith-based film is scheduled to be released early next year.

Two Lexington-based boxers — Savon Edmonds and Robbelle Rogers — appear in the movie.

Tickets to the concert are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Tickets can be bought by calling (859) 433-8440 or checking the Web site cmarie@blacktriadentertainment.com.

Epicenter

With the pre-season coaches' poll topped by No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Louisville and No. 3 Kentucky, this area can be considered ground zero for top-level college basketball.

But, as Kentucky Wesleyan's crackerjack sports information director Roy Pickerill noted, the area has a history of elite basketball played at the non-Division I level.

For instance:

■ Kentucky Wesleyan has won eight Division II national championships. "We're the only school in the NCAA to win championships in each of the last five decades," Pickerill said.

That's 1966 (coached by Guy Strong), 1968 (Bob Daniels), 1969 (Daniels), 1973 (Bob Jones), 1987 (Wayne Chapman), 1990 (Chapman), 1999 (Ray Harper) and 2001 (Harper).

■ The University of Pikeville won the 2011 NAIA national championship.

■ Bellarmine won the 2011 Division II national championship.

■ Kentucky State won three NAIA national championships in the 1970s.

■ Three Kentucky-based schools are in the NAIA pre-season top 25: No. 8 Georgetown, No. 18 Lindsey Wilson and No. 25 Campbellsville.

Evening with Cal

UK Coach John Calipari, who identifies with the good people of eastern Kentucky (his grandfather was a coal miner, he has noted), will work the other side of the street early next month.

From black rock to black tie, he will appear at a private club in New York City on Nov. 8. UK plays Maryland in Brooklyn the next night.

For a $99 price of admission to what's known as the "CORE: club," people will hear Calipari discuss his philosophy on leadership and the drive to win, which, according to promotional material, has made him "one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history."

Calipari will also offer an appraisal of UK's team for 2012-13.

Jeremy Schaap of ESPN will serve as master of ceremonies.

There will be free appetizers and an open bar. You must be 21 or older to attend. All guests will receive a pre-signed autographed photo of Calipari.

To order tickets, call 1-800-233-8556.

The CORE: club is on 55th Street between Madison and Park avenues. According to a review posted on the Internet, the club is "filled with art, books, art books."

Another Internet review says, "Everything from the food, to the service, to the ambience is perfection in this place. Well worth the gazillion dollars to enjoy such a great membership."

The CORE: club Web site promises its members "endless discovery" in a setting "where the unexpected happens every day."

Besides Calipari, the club's stated intention to bring together "interesting and transformative people" has included recent appearances by Carlos Santana, Natalie Merchant and Frankie Valli.

Nebulous

During an interview at ESPN last week, UK Coach John Calipari seemed to imply that the NCAA had finished its review of Nerlens Noel and ruled him eligible for this coming season. Key words: "Seemed" and "imply."

Maybe that inference is accurate. But, in response, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams emphasized — four times in a five-minute conversation — that Noel was eligible to play "as of today." He seemed to imply that the review of Noel's eligibility was ongoing. Again, key words: "seemed" and "imply."

Adding to the sensation of eating soup with chopsticks, UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy offered a tweet that said, "There is no update on Nerlens Noel."

Generally, the NCAA does not announce that a player is eligible or ineligible. The affected school does that.

Question: If the NCAA completed its review and ruled Noel eligible, why wouldn't UK announce it? UK could announce it, say, on its ESPN show All-Access Kentucky. Key word: "all."

'All-Access' ratings

The first episode of ESPN's All-Access Kentucky received a rating of 0.57.

According to Nielsen, there were an estimated 114.2 million television households in the United States as ofAugust.

By that measurement, a .57 rating would be about 650,000 TV homes.

Commercial break

As another season nears, the Blue Ribbon Yearbook serves again as an invaluable resource. Longtime editor Chris Dortch, who grew up amid SEC basketball, led an effort that put together a 400-page preview of the 2012-13 Division I teams.

To order the yearbook, fans can go to blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

Happy birthday

To Bill Curry. The former UK football coach turns 70 Sunday. ... To Stacey Poole Jr. He turns 21 on Wednesday. ... To Kyle Wiltjer. He turned 20 on Saturday.

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