UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: ESPN's obsession with Cats doesn't bother Mississippi coach

Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy said Kentucky has "earned" the right to be showcased on the SEC Network. "I don't begrudge it," he said. "Nor do I think it's unfair."
Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy said Kentucky has "earned" the right to be showcased on the SEC Network. "I don't begrudge it," he said. "Nor do I think it's unfair." AP

ESPN's love affair with Kentucky basketball continues with the SEC Network televising Monday's Blue-White Game. It's the only intrasquad scrimmage the network will televise.

The only preseason exhibition games on the SEC Network will be Kentucky against Pikeville on Nov. 2 and Kentucky against Georgetown on Nov. 9.

This follows ESPNU's two-hour infomercial on Kentucky (a.k.a. UK's NBA Combine) and the Cats' six exhibition games in the Bahamas that helped launch the SEC Network.

Fair-and-unbalanced coverage as far as the other 13 SEC programs are concerned? Don't tell Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy that.

"I think Kentucky's earned the right to be treated like they're treated," he said at SEC Media Days last week. "I do. I don't begrudge it. Nor do I think it's unfair."

Kennedy saluted UK Coach John Calipari. "He's maximizing what he has as we all try to do," Kennedy said.

Calipari suggested that the exposure offered by the SEC Network and various ESPN channels provides a relatively minimal benefit for his program.

"Does it change Kentucky basketball? No," he said. "Kentucky is Kentucky. Does it change Alabama football? No.

"But it changes Ole Miss football, and it changes Mississippi State football. It changes Kentucky football.

"I think that's what the league does. It brings more of a balance to all the programs that need exposure."

Kennedy scoffed at the notion of fairness. "I'm not a big believer in this let's-be-all-fair-and-equal," he said. "When has that ever come into play in life? I've been in a few fights. I've never been in a fair one."

But isn't a fair fight the essence of sporting competition? Isn't that why we have rules like three-seconds and traveling? All teams must abide by the same standard.

"I want the game to be officiated fairly, regardless of where we play," Kennedy said. "Everything else, you try to maximize (advantages)."

SEC Associate Commissioner Herb Vincent endorsed fairness as a noble objective. "I think it's real important to spread it around," he said of television exposure. "Not only among the schools, but among the sports."

League officials will evaluate the SEC Network next summer, Vincent said before adding with a smile, "We'll get a lot of input without asking for it."

Big Blue Sameness?

When pondering the evolution of Big Blue Madness, Kentucky fan Lloyd Hughes is a good test subject. He attended the first UK Madness on a whim. He did not go to another Madness until last weekend.

Hughes, a metal smith in Lexington and a UK graduate, was watching the 11 o'clock news in the early 1980s when he learned that UK would hold what was then called Midnight Madness at Memorial Coliseum. He turned to his father-in-law and asked if he wanted to go. He did. So they drove to campus and walked in.

"I would guess two-thirds full, maybe," he said of the scene in the Coliseum. "It was literally a practice starting at midnight. That's a little different than what it's become."

For the last 10 years, Big Blue Madness has been held in Rupp Arena before capacity crowds. Fans camp out for days and nights for the honor of being first in line for free tickets. The show is always full of sound and fury signifying ... anything?

"My first reaction was would I camp out to see this?" Hughes said of his Madness experience last weekend. "No, I wouldn't. It does seem a little silly."

Of course, lights flashed. Music blared. Smoke rose. Indoor fireworks popped. Yet, the show had a by-the-numbers familiarity. Big Blue Sameness featured women's coach Matthew Mitchell impersonating a singer/dancer, cheerleaders tumbling, a half-court attempt by a fan, etc, etc. UK Coach John Calipari added to the been there-done that atmosphere by introducing a video showing highlights of the Madness speech he gave in 2009.

Prospects taking seats prior to the men's team appearance caught Hughes' eye. "I think that's the whole point of it," he said. "Bring the recruits in and say, 'Look at these crazy fans we have here.'"

Nathan Schwake, an assistant athletics director for marketing and licensing, serves as de facto producer of UK's Madness. He said the point was to make a statement.

"Showcase what we're about," he said. "We're Kentucky. We care about basketball more than anyone else."

Hughes said he sensed fans enjoyed watching two mascots and a cheerleader rappel down from the ceiling on ropes. Fans also came away impressed by the talent on display in five-on-five exhibitions of basketball.

"There did not seem to be the over-the-top enthusiasm from everyone around us ... ," Hughes said. "I'm glad I went. Seeing the team and skills of those guys, it's pretty impressive. As far as the whole event, it didn't have a lot of excitement to it. And I don't know that the fans were all that into it either."

Schwake is open to new ideas, while saying the suggestion of an Adolph Rupp hologram was impractical and too costly at $1 million. Schwake noted that next year's Madness is rich with possibilities coming 24 hours after a Thursday night home football game against Auburn.

Yet, Hughes did not sound convinced UK's Madness has much of a future. "You know, it's time may have come," he said.

Schwake did not agree that Madness is expiring, saying, "750 tents tells me, no."

Rating the 'bigs'

Effort and skill were factors in John Calipari's assessment of Kentucky's big men at this early stage.

When asked about Karl-Anthony Towns, the UK coach said, "He's a skilled big player. If he gets it around the basket, he just has a knack for getting it in the goal.

"But he needs to fight more. ... You either fight or you get pushed to the side."

Older players, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson, have the advantage on Towns in terms of sustained effort.

"Dakari fights like crazy," Calipari said at last week's SEC Media Days. "And it's great for (Towns) to see."

As if speaking to Towns, Calipari added, "'You can read all the press clippings. Everybody in the gym knows what Dakari is doing to you.'

"Dakari's second and third attempts are, like, ridiculous. Karl? One attempt and go back."

Cauley-Stein fights "like crazy," Calipari said. "Second- and third-effort plays, Karl is behind."

But Towns has an advantage over Cauley-Stein and Johnson.

'What Willie and Dakari are behind (in are) the kid's skills are ridiculous," Calipari said. "Really skilled for a big kid."

Towns must assert himself and impose his will to a larger degree.

"If you don't even fight for position, we can't even throw (the ball) to you," Calipari said. "If you don't fight back, you end up catching it eight feet (from the basket). You don't do us any good."

Count down

The media turned out hungrier, thirstier and in greater numbers for the SEC Media Days in football than in basketball this year. Here are the numbers:

■ Football: The SEC gave credentials to more than 900 media types. The reporters swilled 7,500 cups of soft drink products, 37 gallons of coffee and ate 2,200 meals.

■ Basketball: The SEC gave credentials to more than 125 media types. The reporters consumed 12 gallons of coffee, nine gallons of iced tea, three gallons of water, ate 375 lunches (seconds, anyone?) and four dozen chocolate chip cookies.

One factor to keep in mind: Football was a four-day confab in July, while basketball took two days last week (one for women, one for men).

Cross to bear

A crossover dribble by Jennifer O'Neill got one of the biggest fan reactions at Big Blue Madness. An audible and appreciative gasp could be heard when O'Neill went by Andy Keating, a student who is a practice player for the UK women's team.

"I heard it," O'Neill said of the crowd's reaction. "But I didn't realize what had happened until we were back in the locker room."

That's when her teammates clued her in with a question. "Why did you do that to Andy?" she said they asked. "I was, 'Do what?' They said, 'The replay looks so bad.' Then I realized."

Keating apparently took being faked out in good humor.

"He was just laughing about it," O'Neill said. "He didn't really say anything."

UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell saluted Keating as a selfless contributor. "Andy's the perfect guy to fill in," he said.

Don't. Touch, Jimmy

Matthew Mitchell sidestepped a question about Arkansas hiring Jimmy Dykes as its women's coach. Critics said the hiring of an ESPN analyst who had never been a college head coach was unthinkable in sports like football and men's basketball, thus patronizing to women's basketball.

"Nobody knows Arkansas better than Jeff Long," Mitchell said in reference to the school's athletics director. "If that's who Jeff Long thinks Arkansas needs, I'm certainly not going to quarrel with the guy that runs the department."

Dumb and dumber

Even the staunchest defender of the NCAA must admit the rules can seem arbitrary, capricious and officious. John Calipari got a lot of mileage out of a NCAA rule about food for players that permitted bagels, but not bagels with cream cheese. Mercifully, the rule is no longer in effect.

New Missouri coach Kim Anderson provided more ammunition for NCAA critics. After noting that Mizzou has six compliance officers, he said he had hoped to help his new players understand his system by showing them video of his teams at Central Missouri.

"Can't do that," he told reporters. "So remember that."

Qatar hero

Former Mississippi gunner Marshall Henderson is playing in Qatar this coming season. "Believe it or not," Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy said before adding, Henderson "seems to be enjoying it. I don't know if they have a Qatar Network I can plug into. I'll have to wait for that."

The thought of Henderson in the Middle East boggles the mind. One of the SEC's most mercurial players in the world's most volatile regions. When a reporter facetiously suggested a polarizing player like Henderson might bring rival Sunni and Shia factions to a peaceful coexistence, Kennedy laughed and said, "He may be finally the one to bring them together."

No. 1 and No. 1

The No. 1 football team and the No. 1 baseball player were at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday. During the game against No. 1 Mississippi State, Kentucky honored one of its former baseball players, AJ Reed, who swept the major national player of the year awards last season.

Of the activities honoring him, Reed said, "At the tailgate, they'll have me say something. And then at the football game, I guess during one of the timeouts, I'll just go out and they'll announce me and I'll give a nice wave. And that will be about it.

"Then we'll enjoy the football game, and hopefully get a win."

Happy birthday

To Dan Issel. He turned 66 on Saturday. ... To Stacey Poole. He turned 23 on Friday. ... To Andrew and Aaron Harrison. They turn 20 on Tuesday. ... To Transylvania Coach Brian Lane. He turned 47 on Saturday. ... To Bob Knight. The Hall of Fame coach turned 74 on Saturday. ... To Hugh Durham. The former Georgia coach turns 77 Sunday (today).