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COLUMN: Louisville to ACC is the story of millennium so far

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By Bob Watkins

University of Louisville’s entry to the Atlantic Coast Conference last week is, I think, the most important sports story of the new millennium in Kentuckiana.
Among the high, if least mentioned, positives: Economic impact possibilities regionally; and, the nearest NBA franchise will remain at a distance, Indianapolis.
New league, new television option for fans, new everything. Included, Rick Pitino spin/coach-speak.
“Rick Pitino could charm the gold out of your teeth and not even leave you a toothache,” a friend said awhile ago.
If a poll were done ranking most eloquent ball coaches of our time, on any list, Pitino would be first, and second, everyone else tied for third.
He can be Sound Bite Rick for Chris Mathews on MSNBC or how-to-build-a-watch incisive for five minutes on Pardon The Interruption.
In this context, Pitino gave fans a mini-seminar in charm last week. When a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter asked him a may-I-kiss-your-ring question about joining the ACC: “What will it be like to be part of this coaching Mount Rushmore, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim?”, Pitino apparently resisted gagging and a Pontiff-on-high response too.
“... the programs are much bigger than the coaches,” he said. “North Carolina, Syracuse, Duke and Louisville stand far above the coaches.”
Above the coaches. Nicely correct.
Then, response to another question put him and U of L in stark contrast with our state’s other basketball Titan down I-64.
Q. (What are the) other benefits’ (of) going to the ACC?
Pitino waxed collegial, slipped in a genuflect to U of L president Dr. James Ramsey whose new mission is finding ways to compete with Academia’s big dogs.
“We’re also going to take off academically,” he said. “We’re looking to really improve our image academically. So, instead of (being) middle of the road we become an elite university academically ...”
Compete with Wake Forest, Duke and Boston College, “because they’re’ all premier programs.”
Deciding if Pitino’s remarks are genuine or coach-speak baloney, is your option. That he used his bully pulpit to mention academic growth, be an academic rival for Boston College and the rest, is, well, charming.

LOUISVILLE LEAGUE HISTORY
Louisville’s membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference is one of the most remarkable journeys in college conference history.
Once upon a time Coach Peck Hickman’s Louisville’s basketball team played Western Kentucky for the Ohio Valley Conference championship. That was 55 years ago. The Hilltoppers won.
Home and home regulars on U of L’s schedule in those days: Kentucky Wesleyan, Morehead, Murray, Eastern and Western Kentucky (and no UK). The football program was weak and women’s basketball non-existent.
• 1963-1974, Louisville belonged to the Missouri Valley Conference.
• 1975-2005, Metro Conference and Conference USA
• 2005-2012, Big East.
• 2013 American Athletic.
Big winners and big losers with Louisville’s league change?
Winner: Women’s basketball, Cardinal football and baseball.
Winner: ACC member schools. U of L is a hot ticket.
Winner: Landed-on-his-feet again, Bob Petrino.
Loser: Charlie Strong.
Winner-in-waiting: If academic rivalries with Duke, Boston College are established, biggest winners, students.

SALESMANSHIP?
College basketball aficionados enduring the Summertime Slows needed something to stir the heavy air and a television sports network obliged.
A list of the game’s top 50 coaches. Criteria? Apparently one: Salesmanship?
The sports television network tried to sell Florida’s Billy Donovan at number one.
The network killed its credibility straight out of the box by listing anybody not named Mike Krzyzewski.
Using any and all measures, the best coach in college hoops is one with most wins, most Olympic gold medals (2), NCAA titles (4), place in the Hall of Fame, and on Duke’s campus the number one rated recruiting class this year, adding to a steady flow of blue chip student-athletes over more than two decades who bought into Coach K’s salesmanship.
But hey, it’s summertime. The network got what it wanted from its coach-rank exercise. Buzz.

DIS ‘N DATA
• Watch this: The NCAA reopened an investigation on alleged rules violations (academic fraud) at University of North Carolina. UNC officials “want to sit down and talk” with (whistle blower?) Rashad McCants.
The case has parallels to scandals at Kentucky, mid-1980s.
• Decisions. Madison Central prize running back Damian Harris, 5-10, 205-pound senior, will choose a college soon – Alabama, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State, Kentucky, Florida, Florida State or Notre Dame.
• Money Dept. Ex-Kentucky student-athletes Jodie Meeks signed with the Detroit Pistons, $19.1 million for three years; Patrick Patterson to the Toronto Raptors, $18 million for three years.
• Just wondering Dept. LeBron James will go back to Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN predicts. Wonder if John Calipari thinks how he could’ve gotten his man, $70 million and a C-135 rental to airlift both their egos to Cleveland.

WORTH REPEATING DEPT.
Dunk contests. Most all-star game watchers believe they’re a waste of time and much ado about nothing. The following fan view says it all:
“This sort of gaga nonsense ranges between disgust and ‘how stupid is this?’ A dunk shot. Two points. Not three, but TWO points.
“Entertainment? It’s a sham, a scam, a joke, an example of dumbing down America by media-types probably too short, too fat and too easily impressed – gone bonkers when a big ole kid in short pants shows off his ‘ME game’ in a team sport with a 3-6-0 or a pogo-stick, or a high flyer, and now a jaw-dropper between the legs dunk! So what? Still TWO points.”
And so it goes.