COLUMN: Absent coach, man-up time at Kentucky is left to Harrison

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By Bob Watkins

Kentucky Wildcats future?
Projections came last week not from a coach, but from a kid who did the man-up thing and offered Big Blue fans hope.
Aaron Harrison. Rookie, who solos too much on-court faced the music off it with a sunny if fanciful forecast.
“It’s going to be a great story,” the kid told reporters following his team’s second and most stunning loss in a row, at South Carolina.
Bless Harrison’s heart for optimism of an 18-year-old who knows his next game can erase memory that, of his team-high 16 shots (mostly awful), only four went in. And, he had zero assists.
• Kudos to UK assistant coach John Robic, a sane traffic cop at South Carolina. With 10 minutes left, his players brightened, even smiled and rallied within a point.
• Reality check I. Aaron Harrison’s optimism aside, this irony: Most defining part of UK’s season could be when it’s history – who declares for the NBA Draft.
• Reality check II. The skidding metal-on-metal sounds we hear could be Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress skidding toward the D-League. The former won’t mind as much as the latter who’s going to need his college degree
• Reality check III. In my decades watching UK basketball, I can’t recall a collection of soloists become less a team in March than they were in November.

TV and ball coaches
An ESPN audience watched last Saturday, along with Gamecocks’ coach Frank Martin, himself a smoldering volcano, as Calipari morphed into Captain Queeg raving about his frozen strawberries.
The coach lost it. His players lost. And Calipari’s unrelenting showtime rant (to show fans he’s coaching) may cost him credibility with a bunch of kids wearing the same clothes and still forced to share one ball.
And we lost too — respect for television directors and on-air apologists (shameless Jimmy Dykes). Too many ball coaches have grown a bloated sense of importance above the game, concluding the coach is the show.

Connecting dots
On a Saturday when Rick Pitino made a fool of himself in Memphis, Mick Cronin did likewise on Cincinnati’s sideline, all on the heels of Jim Boeheim blown fuse at Duke, and Calipari went ballistic too, I was reminded . . .
• Pitino has always behaved like a lunatic.
• Pitino worked for Boeheim.
• Cronin worked for Pitino.
• Calipari at UMass was said to be Rick Pitino on training wheels.

Questions this week
Most frequently asked questions this week?
• Will Rick Pitino shave off his beard?
• Will John Calipari try to grow one?
• Who’s going to be Kentucky’s next ball coach?
• Has Adolph Rupp turned over in his grave?
• NCAA Tournament. Has Kentucky played itself down in the seedings, open the tournament against . . . Indiana?
• Tubby Smith was fried when his teams had back-to-back double digit losing seasons. What about this one?
• Who the heck is Joe Dan Gold?

Louisville loss at Memphis
This question . . .
• Will Louisville’s loss at Memphis be a good thing?
Answer: Yes. These reasons: 1. College athletes letes ought be clean shaven; 2. Humble pie on March 1 tastes better than it does two weeks on; 3. More game clips to show Russ Smith what happens when the “get outa my way and lemme shoot” Russ Smith shows up.

Just wondering department
At UMass and Memphis U., Calipari was a competent ball coach. Sort of. Discounting that both schools were forced to take down Final Four banners won during his tenure, both programs won games, made lots of money.
I am just wondering about the Peter Principle.
According to Dr. Laurence J. Peter, theory: An employee within an organization advances to his highest level of competence. His next promotion is to arrive at a level of his own incompetence.

Carolina fiasco
SEC man in charge of game officials Jake Bell will shrug and deny it, but officiating for the Kentucky-South Carolina was weak, too reactionary, inconsistent, lop-sided. Yet, fair-minded Kentucky fans have to wonder: “If I had a grown man violating the coach’s box, screeching at players and screaming in my ear every trip down court, how would I call this game?”

Free pass over?
That state media cozied up and kissed up to man they call Cal the last four months might be at an end. Last week, two reporters noticed apparently for the first time this season:
• Calipari “screamed and stamped his feet.”
• Calipari “yelled at the top of his lungs, leaped in the air.”

NBA franchise to Louisville?
A sampling of what area fans would be paying for outrageous tickets for an NBA game if a franchise moved to Louisville ...
Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo admitted what many of us suspected already. Some teams play to lose to improve their positions in the draft.
Had the Raptors lost a certain game last season “they could have been in a coin flip for the number six pick,” according to an internet report last week. Colangelo wanted the number one pick, but Toronto coach Dwane Casey interfered. “He did too good of a job in motivating his players,” Colangelo said.
And so it goes.