NCAA Tournament

UK basketball notebook: Roselle surprised UK honoring him

Jerry Tipton
Jerry Tipton

On April 24, the University of Kentucky will formally name a new dormitory for one of its former presidents. This usually ho-hum gesture is remarkable because the honoree is David Roselle, arguably the most controversial president in UK history.

Roselle piloted UK basketball through the rule-breaking scandal of the late 1980s. He made enemies by choosing to not only cooperate with the NCAA, but to hire former judge James Park to conduct a thorough and honest internal investigation of the program. The prospect of full disclosure angered fans who wanted Kentucky to stonewall the NCAA.

Although UK avoided the so-called "death penalty" and the subsequent house-cleaning ushered in Rick Pitino's tenure and a basketball renaissance, Roselle sensed his continued presence could hurt the school. So, after only three years at UK, he left in 1990 to become president of the University of Delaware.

When asked last week about his reaction to UK naming a dorm for him, Roselle said, "Well, I was surprised. It's been well in excess of 20 years since I've been there. So, yeah, surprised, and delighted. Delight came second. Surprise came first."

Roselle, now 72 and director of the Winterthur Museum, acknowledged that he saw the naming of the dorm as validation for how he handled the basketball scandal of 1988-89.

"That's exactly the way I thought about it," he said. "What I did I wouldn't change any of it. Nonetheless, it was controversial."

The scandal erupted when the Los Angeles Daily News reported that a package sent by the UK basketball office to the father of recruit Chris Mills contained $1,000. Roselle recalled that the newspaper published the story the same day as UK held its ironically named "Honors' Day" program, which also served as his formal inauguration as president.

"People were saying you need to defend the Cats," Roselle said. "And I was saying, well, what we're going to do is investigate the Cats. Out of what we find, that will determine what we do in the way of a defense."

In what sounded like a threat, one self-described media person suggested that Roselle be taken into the mountains of Kentucky and, uh, educated about UK basketball.

"I just didn't understand how basketball gets done at Kentucky," Roselle said with a chuckle when recalling the sentiment.

Recalling the controversial period, Roselle said he learned how to handle a big public-relations problem. He and aide Bernie Vonderheide made more than 100 appearances around Kentucky, explaining the decision to investigate the basketball program.

"I also had confirmed that doing the right thing is probably the best thing for you personally and for your organization," he said.

A seemingly innocent encounter at a grocery store helped persuade Roselle to leave UK. A mother approached and introduced her young son to "the man who saved Kentucky basketball." The sentiment flattered him, but also gave pause.

"That was nice," Roselle said, "but I'm a mathematician. That's not how I wanted to be remembered. Or I didn't want it to drown out whatever else I was to do."

So Roselle moved to Delaware, where he led an effort that added $1 billion to the school's endowment.

"We made the school a better place," he said. "That's what I thought my job was."

Roselle spoke fondly of his time as UK president. He noted his gratitude for the help of UK administrators and many Kentuckians.

"To the extent that (the naming of the dorm in his honor) is them saying the same thing in reverse, then I feel very appreciative," Roselle said.

Recruiting as theater

In the climactic moment of ESPN's signing-day studio show last week, Nerlens Noel made his college choice known by turning his back to the camera and revealing the "U" and "K" cut into the hair on the back of his head.

So college recruiting continues the devolution from momentous lifetime decision to kabuki theater.

Only 20 years ago, then Kentucky coach Rick Pitino lamented how prospects staged news conferences to announce their college choices. Not so coincidentally, these relatively modest high school productions lost a lot of charm for Pitino if the players did not commit to UK.

Since then, we've seen:

Amare Stoudemire hire an advance man to promote his participation in a summer camp for high school underclassmen sponsored by Nike. The P.R. man distributed informational packets to reporters and answered questions about Stoudemire.

LeBron James call a news conference at a summer camp sponsored by adidas. In the summer before his senior year of high school, James no longer needed to actually play at such a camp. The news conference served to alert the media that James would entertain bids from any shoe company wishing to hire him a year later as a commercial pitchman.

Perhaps an underappreciated moment came only five years ago when Patrick Patterson and his family declined an invitation from ESPN to announce his college choice on the all-sports network. Patterson preferred to commit to Kentucky at his high school. Family, friends, teachers and supporters gathered in the gym to hear and cheer a favorite son announce his decision.

Ahhh, the good ol' days.

Trophy tour

As with the Hoops for Haiti telethon, the two-day trophy tour of Kentucky last week sprung from Coach John Calipari's active mind.

UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy said Calipari had heard early in the week that Adolph Rupp used to bring championship trophies to cities in Kentucky. So on Tuesday, UK began working on putting together a tour for the 2012 NCAA Tournament trophy.

"He wanted it sooner rather than later while the championship was still fresh in everybody's minds," Peevy said.

The tour two years ago promoting Calipari's book, Bounce Back, served as a foundation for quick planning.

With the social media taking the lead in spreading the word, the tour began in Ashland on Thursday. Other stops included Pikeville, Hazard, Midway, Frankfort, Owensboro and Paducah.

A reader expressed concern that northern Kentucky did not get a stop on the tour.

But UK will also show the trophy at its "satellite camps" for children in June. Two towns in northern Kentucky — Union and Alexandria — will play host to camps on June 12. It's not the same as last week's tour, the reader noted, but it's still a chance to get a look at the championship trophy.

Other satellite camp stops are Corbin and Danville on June 11, Paintsville and Mount Sterling on June 13, Louisville on June 21 and Bowling Green and Bardstown on June 22.

Seniority system

Grandmother Charlotte Czeskleba was among the estimated 500 that attended the trophy tour stop in Ashland.

"This is a young person's thing," she said before adding, "I may be a grandma, but I still want to be part of it."

Czeskleba applauded Nerlens Noel's commitment to UK the night before. She said the commitment cemented Kentucky's reputation for "fast horses, good-looking women and a basketball team that is a team and a half."

Barbara Caudill, a great-grandmother at 77, also attended the event in Ashland. Her only regret was that UK basketball wasn't literally a 24/7 entertainment year round.

"I can't wait till this starts again," she said. "I don't even want them to take a break."


A reader sent a good question in an email: Since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist does not turn 19 until Sept. 26, might he be ineligible for the 2012 NBA Draft? Therefore, he'll play for Kentucky next season.

Kidd-Gilchrist might play for UK next season, but only if he chooses to return. He can enter his name in this year's draft.

In order to be eligible for the NBA Draft, a player must be a year out of high school or turn 19 within the calendar year of the draft, league spokesman Mark Broussard wrote in an email. So Kidd-Gilchrist can enter his name in this year's draft, if he so desires.

As noted here several weeks ago, Jarnell Stokes — memorably dubbed "Wes Unseld, Jr." by former LSU Coach Trent Johnson — is not eligible for this year's NBA Draft. He finished high school in December, and won't turn 19 this calendar year.

Draft notice

With the April 29 deadline for entering the NBA Draft approaching, UK's many possible entrants should begin making their intentions known soon.

UK expects to begin formally announcing those decisions as soon as this week. So we should know about Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague.

Several of those players are believed to have traveled home to discuss the decision either this weekend or last weekend. No workouts for NBA teams are permitted until the league finalizes its list of early entrants early next month. So there's no new information to be gathered.

Now, it's just a matter of finalizing the decisions, then formally announcing them at news conferences arranged by UK.

Joie de vivre

A veteran sportswriter and longtime observer of basketball offered a cautionary comment at the Final Four. He noted how Anthony Davis seemed to have fun playing for Kentucky this season. The pleasure Davis and other UK players got from the game was noticeable and infectious.

This joie de vivre should be savored, the sportswriter said. He actually used the French phrase, which means an exuberant enjoyment of life.

This joy might not carry over to the pros if Davis plays for an NBA team that runs the wrong system, or he gets asked to do too much or too little or finds himself in a clash of personalities with a veteran player or, which seems most likely, plays for a team that loses a lot of games.

Any of those scenarios played out in an 82-game NBA schedule can exacerbate any problems and make basketball more of a chore.

Elite program

It's more trivia than statistic, but Kentucky may have done something unprecedented this season.

UK had a 9-0 record against teams that reached the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. That was 1-0 against Baylor, 2-0 against Louisville, 3-0 against Florida, 1-0 against North Carolina and 2-0 against Kansas.

Gary Johnson, the NCAA's lead statistician, said he compiled such a stat. He also noted that all three games in the Final Four were rematches of regular-season meetings.

Reader Michael Dixon sent an email asking if any champion had compiled such a record against Elite 8 teams.

Dixon, 63, grew up in Rush, Ky., in Boyd County. He is a 1974 graduate of UK.

Dixon began going to UK games in 1958. He lists Rupp's Runts as his favorite team.

UK beat Louisville and Kansas in the Final Four. So the Cats were 4-0 against Final Four teams, Dixon noted.

Dixon also cited UK's 21-6 record against Kansas. That went a long way toward establishing Kentucky's lead in all-time victories. UK is first with 2,090, Kansas second with 2,070.

Happy birthday

To former UK player and later assistant coach Dwane Casey. He turns 55 on Tuesday. ... To former UK players Derrick Jasper (turned 24 on Friday), Nate Knight (turns 34 on Wednesday) and Michael Bradley (turns 33 on Wednesday). ... To Doug Flynn. He turns 61 on Wednesday.