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Rupp Arena was transformed last weekend into a Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Billy Donovan almost hurried to congratulate Kentucky’s coach and players after Florida cost itself a possible number one seed in the NCAAs.
Seven points up, the Gators squandered possessions, fired blanks and lost more than Kentucky won.
Typically, the dean of SEC coaches made no excuses, but instead praised the Wildcats.
John Calipari, perplexed with his players for months, resorted to shrug and “this is who we are,” philosophical one-liners. His best line of the week came earlier in Athens, Ga. That his team has never become one, “This is on me,” he said.
Donovan and Calipari, gracious, gentlemen. They could meet again soon.
The other half of this quarterly, Madison Central High coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. and Ballard High School coach Chris Renner. Their teams played an equally dramatic encore at Rupp Arena in the state championship game.
Feldhaus, in a magical season that is so just across America, may be first to apply the word all coaches and many players hope to use this time of year, destiny.
Noting how his team came from behind to win in three straight games, capped by a 65-64 decision over Ballard, Feldhaus believed his was “a team of destiny.”
Renner was a gentleman, too. Perhaps more admirably so since his team’s double-digit lead melted down to a turnover-become-loose-ball turned into desperation shot by Ken-Jah Bosley. Swish! Game.
“You almost wonder, was it destiny?” Renner said rhetorically. “Was it destiny for Madison Central to win it?”
Gentlemen’s Quarterly at Rupp Arena - Donovan, Calipari, Feldhaus and Renner.
The never-know-what-you’re-gonna-get Wildcats have become a running synonym for “first four in, last four out.” Or, is it, “last four in, first four out?”
The decider on Kentucky making the NCAA field for the 54th time in 75 years, won’t be ESPN’s Joe Lunardi or even the NCAA selection committee. It will be Arkansas or Vanderbilt on Friday evening.
Just what’s in this UK box of chocolates? Perhaps the last three minutes of Game
No. 31 provide an insight.
• In the last 40 minutes of his season, Archie Goodwin was, well, Archie Goodwin. Good enough to earn the arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! thing he’s seen on NBA television after a steal-and-dunk, and awful enough at the free throw line (six of 12 against the Gators), to leave fans chewing on hard caramel.
• Then, there’s Julius Mays. He personifies this team, also. Through the season Mays swished clutch 3-pointers, made himself a go-to on the perimeter. At other times, he has disappeared or fumbled away crucial possessions. Last Saturday, in his last 10 seconds in Rupp Arena, Mays stepped to the foul line and iced Kentucky’s most important win of
2013 to date.
Begs the question, what next out of Kentucky’s box of chocolates when teams assemble at Rupp Arena-South in Nashville this week for the SEC Tournament?
Only Tom Crean in Bloomington and Mike Krzyzewski in Durham have done as splendid a job molding a team as Rick Pitino. The Cards gave their coach his 300th win and almost certainly an induction into basketball’s Hall of Fame this year.
Keys to Pitino’s team-making? These things:
• Gorgui Dieng. Used kid gloves and got his young center into NBA round one conversation.
• Improved Peyton Siva’s efficiency by alternately chewing on and coo-ing over his mercurial point man.
• Leveraged Wayne Blackshear minutes to persuade Chane Behanan to be less showy and more willing to expand his comfort zone.
• To varying degrees of success, put up with and put a collar on a basically selfish player, Russ Smith.
Next, the Big East Tournament. If Pitino’s Cards run the table, the NCAA selection committee might extend a number one seed.
Danger team? Less Georgetown, and more Marquette.
CAL NOT TO BLAME
A business writer at Forbes Magazine wrote: “(John) Calipari can’t really be blamed for (Kentucky’s) down year. Six members of his title-winning squad were drafted in the first two rounds of last year’s NBA draft, and that exodus of championship-caliber talent was further worsened when freshman phenom Nerlens Noel went down with an ACL tear earlier this season.”
Curious stance for a business writer who presumably is better acquainted with this scenario: Company does not reach its profitability goals, stockholders don’t want to hear excuses from or about their “the buck stops here” CEO.
Calipari is the highest paid CEO, uh, coach in his profession. He accepted responsibility and blame last week and made no excuses. As he should.
So, Cal, with zero graduation rate, how about that $6 million-plus pay packet? Giving 30 percent to UK’s general fund would be a public relations bonanza, and large boost to pay for construction projects on campus. And, save the university the costs of mailings to alumni begging for money.
For as long as Bob Knight lives he will be written about, read about, argued about. The ex-Indiana coach was featured recently in the New York Times Magazine.
• Graduation rates at IU, Knight’s team boasted highest of any NCAA (school).
Knight: “We sent a card to every professor for each kid I had, and I was able to keep track on a daily basis who cut class or who was dropping a grade average. What I did was bring that kid in at five in the morning, and he would run the stairs from bottom to top until I told him to quit. I did this with a lot of kids, but never twice.”
• Sports writers. In retrospect, was it a mistake not to be friendlier to reporters?
Knight: “No, not at all. I enjoyed needling the press. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t have done it. Writers have rarely played (basketball), so as a coach you have antagonistic feelings about some guy writing up the story of the game who’s never even attempted to play it.”
• Indiana’s Tom Crean has tried to get you back to Bloomington, a sort of homecoming. I imagine you’d receive a hero’s welcome.
Knight: “I don’t need a hero’s welcome. What do I need a hero’s welcome for? Obviously I don’t have any interest in going back, or I would have, it’s that simple.”
• Imagine you were allowed to edit your own obituary. Is there anything you’d choose to leave out?
Knight: “Well, seeing as I won’t be able to, I would simply quote Clark Gable. Quite frankly, I just don’t give a damn.”
And so it goes.