Uber donor Carol Martin "Bill" Gatton proposed an intriguing what-if to explain how much he loves Kentucky basketball. "If you had told me I could be an All-American basketball player at Kentucky and never make a penny out of the pros or become the richest man in the world, I'd have been an All-American player at Kentucky," he said Friday.
Of course, Gatton never had that choice. He became a successful businessman, as evidenced by Thursday's announcement that he'd donated $20 million — the largest single donation in UK history — toward an expansion of the school's student center. That surpassed the previous record: his $14 million donation to the UK College of Business in 1995.
Gatton, 82, has helped UK's athletic fund-raising. His $50,000 gift set up a scholarship for a basketball manager in the late 1970s. He also gave $700,000 or $800,000 — he couldn't remember exactly — to help UK launch its tutorial service for athletes.
Yet, in the enduring academics-versus-athletics debate, Gatton comes down firmly on the side of improving classrooms and campus life.
"I'll be happy to see the day when the academic side has facilities equal to the athletics side," he said. "I think academics is primarily why we're here. And nobody loves basketball more than me."
Gatton spoke after a UK Board of Trustees meeting Friday. As much as he loves Kentucky basketball, he could not support a massive re-invention of Rupp Arena. He'd like to see a new scoreboard over center court that includes video screens. He said he's willing to donate $1 million to make that happen. He'd also like to see chairback seats in the upper level and more restrooms.
But Gatton said he saw no need for glass walls "to make it look like (Louisville's) Yum Center."
Nor does he support the long-held dream of a new on-campus arena, say, near Commonwealth Stadium. He agrees with UK President Eli Capilouto: The school has many more pressing needs than a new basketball palace.
"I'm not pushing for that at all," Gatton said, "and wouldn't expect them to do that and don't want them to do that if they can work things out satisfactorily" with Lexington officials to keep playing in Rupp Arena. A new arena is a luxury that UK cannot afford.
"You could take Memorial Coliseum and spend a few million dollars on it, and equal or exceed Duke's (Cameron Indoor Stadium)," he said. "And they're supposed to have a pretty good basketball team."
As part of Thursday's announcement of the $20 million donation, UK Coach John Calipari presented Gatton with a jersey. Gatton said he had not yet decided what to do with the jersey. But because he lives in Bristol, Tenn., he sees the need for subtlety. "I don't want to offend people who maybe have allegiances to other schools," he said diplomatically.
Calipari invited Gatton to speak to the UK team.
"What could I tell them?" Gatton said. "They know more about it than I'll ever know about basketball."
Calipari suggested in a tweet that Gatton might be the most knowledgeable of UK fans.
"That was mighty nice of him," Gatton said. "But that is hardly true."
Sour on suites
Although UK athletics officials wanted luxury suites as part of a Rupp Arena re-invention, trustee Carol Martin "Bill" Gatton recoils from the idea.
"Because it sends the wrong message to core fans who have built the tradition of Kentucky basketball for years and years and years," he said. "... It looks like they're doing something for rich folks and not for core fans who have supported and made the reputation of Kentucky basketball."
UCLA 11, UK 8
Bill Gatton is keenly aware that UCLA has won more national championships than Kentucky.
"One of the things I'd love to see is Kentucky basketball end up with more of those NCAA championships than UCLA has," he said. "I'd like to see us catch them and pass them in my lifetime.
"And I don't have a lot of time left to get that done."
Alex the great
Alex Poythress passed the eye test with his play in the Bahamas last month. Al Cooper, who coached Poythress for Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tenn., was impressed.
"He ran the floor like a gazelle," Cooper said. "He rebounded like, shoot, I thought he rebounded like a mad man."
Poythress led Kentucky in scoring with an average of 11.8 points, and was the third-most prolific rebounder (5.7 rpg). His six steals in eight days were half the total he had all of last season.
Informality may have helped. During warmups before one game, UK Coach John Calipari came onto the court to offer Poythress advice on shooting technique. Poythress made two of six three-point shots in the Bahamas. Last season he made eight of 33 shots from beyond the arc.
Reflecting on last Sunday's note about WFAN's Mike Francesa's assessment of John Calipari:
If Calipari cares how he's perceived as a coach (and he won't admit it), he's hardly alone.
"I don't think that he's unique among coaches in the way he knows everything that's said about him," Geoff Calkins said of Calipari. "But he knows everything that's said about him."
Calkins, a columnist with The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, said that Calipari paid close attention to comment and criticism while Memphis coach.
"I don't think he's unique in this way at all," Calkins said.
When he played for Duke, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas and teammates went on an offseason trip to Europe. To put it mildly, they learned to handle adversity.
"There were games we got cheated," Bilas said.
Cheated? That's a strong word. But Bilas meant what he said.
"You could tell the officials are in on this ... ," he said. "There's a difference between a mistaken call and getting cheated. You can tell when you're getting jobbed. And we were getting jobbed."
"Then I found out later on, when I played professionally in Europe, these kind of things happened. The game was basically a setup. And organizers were in on it."
On the plus side, those Duke players got a lesson in keeping emotions in check and making the best of it.
"It was a good experience to be put in that situation and you have to overcome," Bilas said. "It is a good thing."
How did Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski manage being cheated?
"Not well," Bilas said. "Not well."
For the Bahamas trip, UK faced no hostility from the local populace. UK did not play a Bahamian team.
SEC basketball's Media Days next month should erase any doubts about how closely the league associates itself with ESPN (and vice versa). The Media Days are scheduled for the ESPN headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., rather than the annual exercise in public relations near Birmingham, Ala.
Charlotte represents Bristol South for ESPN.
So don't be surprised if Commissioner Mike Slive is a guest on Mike & Mike next month. (Would that be Mike & Mike & Mike?)
GQ magazine recently listed the worst fans in the country.
Philadelphia ranked first (Eagles) and second (Phillies) on the list. "The meanest fans in America," the magazine said.
Two familiar fan groups made the top 10 (or is that bottom 10?). Duke basketball fans were No. 8. "Silver-spoon bullies," GQ said.
LSU football fans were No. 10. "Deep-fried lunatics."
GQ magazine also labeled No. 14 Oregon fans as "hecklers from hell." The school apparently has a "Code of Conduckt," which GQ noted was "their unforgivable pun, not ours."
One man, one vote
During a recent photo shoot, the NBA asked 38 first-year players for the 2014-15 season to predict the Rookie of the Year.
Former Duke star Jabari Parker won in a landslide with 52.8 percent of the vote. Doug McDermott and Andrew Wiggins tied for second at 8.3 percent.
Former UK star Nerlens Noel, who sat out last season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, tied Shabazz Napier for fourth at 5.6 percent.
Ex-Cat Julius Randle was among those also receiving votes.
Earl Chapman, who put a UK tombstone on display outside his Trinity Monuments business in Jackson, said that someone called to ask about the stone.
But the possible customer wondered if Chapman could get a tombstone with a University of the Cumberlands theme. He can.
To Julius Mays. He turned 25 on Thursday. ... To Bo Lanter. He turned 55 on Thursday. ... To Nazr Mohammed. He turned 37 on Friday. ... To Alex Poythress. He turned 21 on Saturday. ... To John Wall. He turned 24 on Saturday. ... To Dale Brown (the former UK guard). He turned 46 on Saturday. ... To John Clougherty. The longtime SEC referee, now supervisor of ACC officials, turns 71 on Wednesday. ... To former Ole Miss coach Rob Evans. He turns 68 on Sunday. ... To Oak Hill Academy Coach Steve Smith. He turns 59 on Sunday.