Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the historic 1966 national championship game between Kentucky and Texas Western. When asked recently to reflect on that time and that game, Pat Riley immediately mentioned how he missed the reunion marking the 40th anniversary.
Riley, then the coach of the Miami Heat, said he would come to Lexington on one condition: The Heat beat San Antonio on the night before UK recognized one of its most beloved teams.
“Of course, San Antonio beat us,” Riley said, “and the next morning I was upset. I went to an angry practice.
“And it was a big mistake. Those were the things I used to do as a coach that I regret now. I always put the game ahead of those milestones.”
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Riley lamented how he missed seeing former teammate Tommy Kron, who passed away the year after the 40th anniversary.
So, Riley, now the Heat president, was looking forward to a 50th anniversary reunion. He and former UK teammate Louie Dampier talked about such a gathering when in Springfield, Mass., last fall for Dampier’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“He said, ‘This time I’m coming,’” Dampier said. “We thought they’d have something this year.”
UK considered staging a 50th anniversary reunion. Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy cited a couple reasons why there was no reunion of Rupp’s Runts.
UK rarely recognizes teams that did not win a national championship.
The Runts staged their own reunion last fall (Jim LeMaster and Tommy Porter organized a golf outing in the Nashville area; Riley attended, although Dampier and Steve Clevenger did not).
UK marked the 50th anniversary of Rupp’s Runts by having Larry Conley and Dampier do the “Y” at home games, Peevy said, plus Conley was UK’s representative at the SEC Legends promotion at the league tournament.
Conley suggested that Kentucky should honor teams that made a lasting mark, even if they did not win national championships. The Runts, plus teams in 1975 and 1984, fit this category, he said.
“You’ve got a lot of teams that went to the Final Four that you could honor,” Conley said. “What better way to do it than with our team?”
Defending the refs
The coach-referee dynamic has been a continuing theme this Kentucky basketball season.
Doug Sirmons’ ejection of UK Coach John Calipari at South Carolina and Pat Adams’ technical foul on Isaac Humphries at Texas A&M put referees front and center. Sort of like a punching bag in front of a boxer.
Author Bob Katz tries to humanize referees in a new book titled The Whistleblower: Rooting for the Ref in the High-Stakes World of College Basketball.
Katz laughed when asked if defending referees made him something of a modern-day Don Quixote.
“It’s less defending than illuminating what they do,” he said. “It is my belief that what they do requires something like athletic skills and managerial shrewdness. How do we make the games fair in the midst of confusion and not an inconsiderable amount of deliberate deception?”
J.D. Collins, the new NCAA coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, summed it up in a quote from The Whistleblower. He said, “Our job is to absorb the chaos, create calm and provide hope that the outcome will be fair.”
Of course, players and coaches are not keenly interested in fairness. They want advantage, and are willing to go to great lengths to achieve it: Flopping, pointing to indicate the decision that possession should go their way, flailing arms, screaming in pseudo pain, sideline tirades, flinging off sports coats with theatric flair, etc.
Katz said referees and coaches inevitably clash. They have different missions.
“Coaches understand working the refs is part of their strategy,” he said. “They want to get favorable treatment down the stretch (of games). They don’t want the refs to forget they’re there. The refs, of course, want to ignore them.
“They’re on a collision course.”
Kentucky has seemed like a bumper car this season, never more so than at South Carolina. Since then, Sirmons has not worked another UK game, which raises the question of whether a referee involved in a particularly contentious situation should be quietly removed from assignments involving that team in the immediate future. Katz thinks so.
“My guess is there’s no need to set up that collision for a while,” he said, “so let’s avoid it for a while.”
Perhaps contrary to popular belief, Katz said referees are not happy when one of their brethren ejects a coach. “Provoking coaches is too easy,” he said the refs believe. “It shouldn’t be done.”
Five against eight?
During one of his recent radio call-in shows, UK Coach John Calipari lamented how opponents had shot more free throws. Opponents haven’t shot more free throws than UK in a season since 2007-08.
He downplayed the notion that a lack of a low-post game reduced Kentucky’s chances of getting to the foul line.
“Some (opponents) may jam it in the post,” he said. “Well, we’re driving it into the post. It’s the same deal.”
Calipari said it might appear at times that Kentucky is playing “against eight,” which author Bob Katz called “a complete mischaracterization of the function of the refs. And he knows that.”
Vote for a ref?
In a column that appeared in The Boston Globe last week, author Bob Katz suggested that the qualities this country needs in its leaders might be present in the sports world.
The automatic reflex would be to think he meant the coaches, who fancy themselves as wise sages who can show the way.
The self-help books penned by coaches (or their ghostwriters) include John Calipari’s Bounce Back, Mike Krzyzewski’s Beyond Basketball and Rick Pitino’s double dose of do-this: Success is a Choice and the more recent Rebound Rules.
Yet, Katz sees another sports participant as ideally suited to lead in this time of coarseness and bluster: the referees.
“The one special insight that officials can contribute to the cottage industry of self-help bromides spawned by sports may be one most sorely needed these days: how to (tamp) down divisiveness and restore equanimity,” Katz wrote.
“In a political season marked by demonizing, know-it-all harangues that sound as if they come straight from the sports talk radio beer stand, a shift away from rampant polarization can’t come too soon. Enter the zebra shirt.”
Katz did not nominate a particular referee to lead. But he said the officials are better suited to lead.
“The wisdom of the refs, rather than all-star quarterbacks, may be what’s needed in the huddle,” he wrote.
Rupp’s Runt Louie Dampier and his wife, Judy, went to see the movie Glory Road, which told the story of Texas Western beating Kentucky in the 1966 national championship game.
“At certain points of the movie, I’d lean over and say, ‘That didn’t happen,’” Dampier said. “‘That didn’t happen. That never happened.’
“Then Bobby Joe Hill stole the ball from me. I said, ‘That happened.’”
Former Mississippi coach Bob Weltlich was at the SEC Tournament. He is among a group of people that considers teams for the NIT.
Other people who have served in that capacity include former UK director of athletics C.M. Newton and former Tennessee coach Don Devoe.
When it was suggested that LSU might be an attractive team because of Ben Simmons’ star power, Weltlich pointed out that the NIT no longer considers star power in picking teams.
Bob Weltlich is closely associated with Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight. He worked on Knight’s staff at Indiana before becoming a head coach.
Perhaps, Weltlich should be associated with Knight more closely than you thought. Weltlich grew up in the same area of Ohio as Knight. Knight’s mother was Weltlich’s second-grade teacher.
“She gave me my first paddling,” Weltlich said with a smile.
Cecil Hurt, the sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, is known for carrying a hand-held device at the SEC Tournament. He calls it a book.
During TV timeouts, Hurt puts down his pen and picks up his book.
This year he turned to non-fiction. The book he’s reading is titled The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr., and the international hunt for his assassin.
The author is Hampton Sides.
A sign of the journalism times: veteran sportswriter Ron Higgins is not at the SEC Tournament. He had covered the last 30 SEC tournaments, and 33 overall. Budgetary concerns, it seems, led NOLA.com (the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune) to keep Higgins home, although if LSU advanced to Sunday’s finals, Higgins expected to be sent to Nashville to cover the championship game.
“It’s strange not being at the tourney, so I’ve tried to simulate a press room at my house,” he wrote in a joking email. “I’ve covered my living room table in plastic. I have a pile of press guides, releases and box scores thrown all over the table. I have an entire display of Golden Flake chips in my kitchen. I have a guy at the backdoor telling me I need to pour my soft drink into an official SEC cup if I want to go outside. I have an Ashley Judd lookalike wearing a pass to my den where the cold buffet is on the table.
“And finally, I walked out to the street to get my garbage can, and I have a group of people I hired dressed as Kentucky fans. Half are trying to buy tickets and the other half are (complaining) about the officiating.
“So far, it’s working. No withdrawals.”
To Anthony Davis. He turned 23 on Friday. … To Rashaad Carruth. He turned 34 on Saturday. … To Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy. He turns 48 on Sunday (today). … To Patrick Patterson. He turns 27 on Monday. … To Jock Sutherland. He turns 88 on Monday. … To Jim Master. He turns 54 on Wednesday.