UK Men's Basketball

UK-UNC notes: Calipari asks 'classiest' fans to treat tarnished Heels with respect

University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari.
University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari. Lexington Herald-Leader

With North Carolina's proud basketball program mired in an embarrassing academic scandal, Kentucky Coach John Calipari is asking UK fans in Rupp Arena Saturday to be "respectful."

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UK-UNC PREGAME: Clay/Tipton/Story preview | Cal asks fans to show respect | Clay: Blue mood shades big game | Poythress out | Injury complicates UK's preparation

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Calipari prefaced his take-the-high-road request by saluting the Big Blue Nation. "We have the classiest fans in the world," he said.

The UK coach then suggested how UK fans can meet that standard.

"Cheer for us," he said before adding that he did not want fans to taunt North Carolina with signs or banners or, presumably, with taunts.

Of North Carolina, Calipari said, "This is a storied program and (a program that) deserves our respect. So be respectful.

"When we go to North Carolina, they're respectful. That's what makes this a unique thing."

Calipari's message echoed a similar call for civility in the 2011-12 season. Intoxicated with a team destined to win a national championship, UK fans plotted through social media to take over an ESPN GameDay show scheduled for a Kentucky-at-Vanderbilt game. Ultimately, fans complied with Calipari's request to stand down and let Vandy have its time at center stage.

Of course, not everyone is taking the high road.

"The A-B-C crowd, Anybody But Carolina, is having a field day ... ," said Art Chansky, UNC graduate (1970) and author of several books on the Tar Heels. "N.C. State is having a blast with this because they've been the red-headed stepchild for all these years."

Chansky added that the Duke-North Carolina rivalry involves more "mutual respect."

Positive thinking I

North Carolina Coach Roy Williams suggested that Alex Poythress's season-ending knee injury, as unfortunate as it is, might be of some benefit to Kentucky.

"You hate it for the kid, and he's really a good player and he's done some good things ... ," Williams said. "Yet ... they have been playing 10 guys relatively similar minutes. Now, they're playing nine. ... In some ways, it might help their rotation (and) help the distribution of minutes.

"But at the same time, you lose a good player. I don't think I'll ever say losing somebody helps."

Positive thinking II

Former UNC big man Eric Montross, now a color commentator on radio broadcasts of games, works as a fund-raiser for the men's basketball program.

He acknowledged how "grave mistakes" had been made in a reported scheme to use bogus classes to keep UNC athletes academically eligible. "I'm very disappointed it happened," he said.

But Montross said the scandal has not dried up fund-raising.

"I have not received one call from one person who said, 'Enough is enough, I'm done with Carolina,'" he said.

Sudden impact

UK Coach John Calipari acknowledged how Poythress's injury drives home the reality of how fleeting success can be. He noted a message assistant coach Kenny Payne had for the players.

"Don't waste a moment," Calipari said.

Willie Cauley-Stein nodded when asked about how abruptly athletic fortunes can change.

"Just to see it firsthand and have it happen to somebody close to you is always devastating."

Take a flyer

Calipari also acknowledged that coaches do not know everything and cannot anticipate every development.

When asked about how UK will adjust its rotation and lineup in Poythress's absence, Calipari said, "Some of this is going to be at some point, 'OK, let's try this lineup and see how it works.'

"We'll probably get dinged some. Could be Saturday."

Do it for Alex

Cauley-Stein suggested the Poythress injury gave UK players something to rally around.

"The X's and O's will take care of itself," he said. "Everybody's just going to play hard and play for him for the rest of the time. That's what the motive is now."

Class?

Calipari noted how Poythress is a model student and, therefore, likely to dutifully do the rehabilitation necessary to recover fully from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"Alex wanted to go to class (Thursday night)," the UK coach said. "The kid's crazy. I said, 'Stop with the class and relax for a minute.'"

Ulis-Booker

Freshmen Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker sat out the game against Columbia on Wednesday because of what UK called minor injuries.

When asked about their status, Calipari said. "They practiced (Thursday), surprisingly."

Calipari said he was kidding about being surprised.

Three for three

Neither UK (4.6 per game) nor North Carolina (4.4) has made enough three-point shots to qualify for inclusion in the NCAA ranking of teams' shooting accuracy from beyond the arc.

A wary Calipari noted how Columbia (which averaged 2.29 three-pointers a game), made three of their first five attempts on Wednesday and finished 8-of-25 from that range.

UK's size

Williams said he's heard that among NBA teams only the Portland Trail Blazers had a taller front line than UK. "Pretty impressive if that's true," the UNC coach said. "I haven't seen a team — none comes to mind — in 27 years of coaching. I haven't seen a team this deep and talented."

On the call

Marv Albert and Greg Anthony will call the game for CBS.

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