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COLUMN: The state's feel-good story is in Bowling Green

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By Bob Watkins

Western Kentucky University has been struck by an occupier movement. Fans of a Topper team that has won three of four, want interim removed from coach Ray Harper’s job title. The team transformation since Harper took over a month ago is becoming a feel-good story to rival Murray State’s No. 9 ranking and 23-0 streak, and Kentucky’s climb to No. 1.
Harper’s Hilltoppers have shown new energy, grit and growing confidence not seen before. The coach’s rotation seems to have sent morale soaring, too.
The Topper Revival was reflected in Harper’s remark last week about the new atmosphere in Diddle Arena:
“This is the crowd that I remember ... the one when I was a kid or even when I was a growing up,” he said after the Toppers defeated South Alabama. “It’s the sixth man. This is our house. That’s how we’re going to attack it each and every time we come to Diddle Arena.
“We are not losing games at home. Our fans were the sixth man tonight. I cannot thank them enough. Our kids can’t thank them enough. They played hard, they played together and to me, that is what the game of basketball is all about.”
If Hilltoppers roll on, and occupiers have their way, Harper will be out recruiting next month without interim in his title.

CARDINALS IN REVIVAL?
When Rick Pitino said last week he hopes his Cardinals can win “five of nine” the rest of the way in Big East regular season play, I wondered if the coach was spinning, being pragmatic or lowering expectations.
Answers: Yes, three times.
• Pitino was spinning ... to his players.
• Pragmatic, yes. The Cardinals play at Cincinnati and West Virginia, two games with Syracuse.
• Lower expectations, of course. Routine for ball coaches. When results are “better than expected” talking heads named Vitale, Dykes and the rest roll out the laudables “What a great coaching job. Wow!”
In fact, Louisville’s play the last two weeks has been good enough, the Cardinals could be favored in all but their final game at Syracuse.

COACH OF YEAR CAL?
John Calipari could be national coach of the year, but his name is seldom mentioned as a candidate “because,” ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes said, “other coaches don’t like him.”
Ah, the politics of the college ball coach fraternity. When coach of year ballots are cast, “like” should have nothing to do with it. Says here it isn’t that Calipari is unpopular as much as resentment of his being a one-and-done shill for the NBA.
Still, with the “Ville Trials” still ahead – Nashville, Starkville and Gainesville – Calipari is the best coach in America. The enormity of Anthony Davis’ progress, to three-year starter Darius Miller coming off the bench ready, on to Terrence Jones’ growth spurts, Kentucky’s ascendance is remarkable.
College coach of the year? Calipari.

KENTUCKY UNIFORMS
The University of Kentucky showed up for its game with Tennessee in Rupp Arena last week dressed as Georgetown Hoyas. With school traditional blue reduced to a stripe and numbers unrecognizable, the drab grey uni was another tail-wags-dog. A shoe company conceived a bad uniform and gave Kentucky basketball a time and place to debut. Thumbs down to Mitch Barnhart. UK’s director of athletics deserves a hearty round of boos.

BIG BLUE NATION WARNING
Lexington officials unveiled a plan for refurbishing its Lexington Center last week, including Rupp Arena.
Price tag? $250 to $300 million. Who pays? Undetermined. An item Big Blue Nation should keep a wary eye on is naming rights. History tells us, if the price is right, Lexington politicians will sell off Adolph Rupp’s legacy. Says here, no matter the amount a bank or corporation is willing to pony up, Rupp Arena should have no other name affixed on Rupp Arena.
Warning: The Daniel Boone Parkway’s name was shamelessly given away as patronage by former governor Paul Patton to politician Hal Rogers in 2003 – evidence that everything has its price. Kentucky fans would do well to guard their Gold Standard, Rupp Arena as is.

STAR SYSTEM CON
High school football stars signing college scholarships last week brought to the fore, the star system. This kid is a four-star, that one’s a three, or two.
The star system is uneven, subjective, exaggerated and an unreliable hoax. How does it sustain credibility? The media herd. Sports writers, television and radio talking heads quote who is or is not a four-star as if reading from the scriptures.
Last week Kentucky unveiled its list of commits for 2012 with star ratings for each. One “service” said Joker Phillips signed only three two-star prospects. Another said it was six.
Just wondering – weren’t Wesley Woodyard and Randall Cobb two-star prospects? How about Danny Trevathan and Bobby Rainey?
Here’s a glimpse of reality...
As teenagers joining the armed forces, college signees are 17- to 18-year-olds headed for culture shock that makes the star system a bad joke.
The ratings should be based on who best adjusts to:
•No more Mom’s cookin’; no more back-slaps at the barber shop; no fan love and free lunch at the corner cafe. And, the girlfriend is probably moving on, too.
Presto, college campus.
•Classes where nobody cares what he did in high school, how many stars he owned, especially professors not ga-ga for football the way PE or Driver’s Ed teachers were back home.
•Practice? Pace is faster and the kid across the line is as big and fast or faster than the new kid. Coach yells at the kid who is trying block or avoid somebody named Mister Cobble.
•Compete for playing time. New guy’s stars give way to – who has the motor and stamina to play every play, attend every class, make every grade.
•Or, handle it when coach says, “son, we’re gonna red shirt you.”
Those who dole out four stars or two stars should wait and see...
•Who shows up on campus in August.
•Who’s still around a month into classes.
•Who’s still around after the Tennessee game.
Player ratings on signing days in February, beyond weight and speed in the 40, is all a con.
And so it goes.