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Goodbye Johnny Ballgame

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By Bob Watkins

Flash, flair and fun – John Wall’s game came in technicolor with a Wow! factor and Kentucky fans loved it all and embraced the kid who brought it.

Even at one and done he was the best. Good bye, Johnny Ballgame.

By custom, and because UK basketball has a New York Yankee-like hall of heroes, we compare gifted ones who passed this way. New category: The Left Early(s) list includes Rajon Rondo, Jodie Meeks, Kelenna Azubuike, Jamal Mashburn, Ron Mercer and Rex Chapman.

• Mashburn and Mercer, was right time to move on.

• Azubuike had to go, ditto Chapman (impending NCAA penalty for UK).

• Rondo was an NBA player before he got to Lexington.

• Meeks was not going to get 20 shots a game.

Wall? Kid wearing 11 had a cosmic presence that whispered, “don’t blink, here’s a celestial star crossing hoops heaven. Pffft, Gone!”

Wall determined to play error free, play unselfish and lead. He kept chest-bumps and strut to a minimum, rarely whined at a blown call and stepped away after hard fouls.

The most fiercely anti-UK fan marveled at his play.

So, Wall’s place in UK’s pantheon of hoops stars is bronzed. Tops any Leave-Early list.

Next, he becomes wealthy, leaves kidhood in rearview mirror. Good-bye, Johnny Ballgame.

PATTERSON MOVES ON

When University of Kentucky raises jersey No. 54 into Rupp Arena’s rafters, Patrick Patterson will stand at center court in an expensive 3-piece suit and do the Y thing. The ovation cascading down could bring Patterson to tears again.

College hoops loses another prime time student-athlete as UK’s junior heads to the NBA Draft.

In UK’s galaxy of All-Americans, Patterson’s popularity puts him somewhere in Kyle Macy and Kenny Walker neighborhood. In my own pantheon Patterson stands alongside Jamal Mashburn, Tayshaun Prince, Johnny Cox, Bob Burrow, Frank Ramsey and Pat Riley.

Men of grace, achievement and class who understood playing for name on one’s chests is more than a hokey after-thought.

    

NEWS & VIEWS

NEWS. Western baseball fans set an attendance record for a college game in Kentucky when 6,183 saw the Hilltoppers bludgeon UK, 24-8 April 19.

VIEW. Maybe it should’ve been a 3-game series.

NEWS. Louisville’s Samardo Samuels put his name into the 63-and-counting NBA draft traffic jam. His coach vowed to help Samuels make the right decision before the May 8 deadline.

VIEW. So, we can be reasonably sure Rick Pitino will tell Samuels, “... stick around, big guy, next draft will be better.” Right?

NEWS. Despite projection as a second round draft pick, Morehead State junior Kenneth Faried added his name to the underclassmen list also. Coach Don Tyndall said, “no one will encourage (Faried) to leave more than I.”

VIEW. Baloney! Faried should seek advice from a straight-laced math professor to explain how dividing 60-something into 30-something (first round slots) doesn’t compute. Stay in school, kid.

NEWS. Butler University coach and hottest celeb Brad Stevens will throw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game May 10 and sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame at Wrigley Field.

VIEW. If BU’s coach stood alongside say, shortstop Ryan Theriot, someone would wonder, “is that Theriot’s kid brother?”

NEWS. 68, not 96, is new number of teams invited to the NCAA men’s Big Dance next year.

VIEW. Good move. Keeps office pool in play; keeps door open for another Cinderella; keeps ESPN’s talking heads talking which keeps teevee remote mute button at hand for Dick Vitale face time.

VIEW II. NCAA officials can now focus on fixing, one-and-done. Adopt a modification of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft rule. High school senior hoops star examines his options. 1. Sign to play-for-pay immediately; 2. Sign free ride to college for three years; 3. Go get a real job.

JUST WONDERING DEPT.

Louisville or Kentucky? Marquis Teague’s college choice was the hold-your-breath headliner last week. The 6-2 Indianapolis senior-to-be had all but committed to UofL, changed his mind and left us to wonder ...

1. Best player in the Hoosier state and tug of war for Teague did not include talent-starved Indiana University?

2. Didn’t Rick Pitino used to be Elvis? A king coach with the Midas Touch?

UK UPS ANTE AGAIN

Two weeks ago the University of Kentucky raised football ticket prices and hiked the licensed fee to buy them. Last week, an increase to park.

For seven home dates, a $100 increase to $275 to park in blue, purple, orange, green and red lots at Commonwealth Stadium.

Sports Information Director for football Tony Neely said in an e-mail, “We have a very long waiting list for parking passes and believe we will sell all available spaces.”

UK officials hasten to remind fans that ticket prices are higher at other SEC schools.

Savvy fans know UK is still not on par with Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, or South Carolina which means price hikes for ticket and parking price hikes are outrageous.

If Lee Todd and Mitch Barnhart have a place at all in University of Kentucky history it’s only resemblance to higher education will be they were in charge during a Flagship U. era of sell-out to sports and marketing profiteers.

PARTING SHOT

About Duke’s basketball coach, Sporting News columnist John Feinstein writes:“Whether his latest champion is the least talented of (Mike) Krzyzewski’s Final Four teams doesn’t matter. This was a group that reflected its coach: tough, smart, driven and consistently able to get better.”

Comment: To consistently get better means players stick around three and four years. Just the sort of coach University of Kentucky fans would like to have.

And so it goes.

Sports In Kentucky appears in community newspapers across Kentucky. You can reach bob Watkins at Sprtsinky@aol.com