GUEST COLUMN: UK's All-Americans growing up

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U of L hands Strong signature win

By Bob Watkins

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds.” William James wrote. “A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

John Calipari danced last week. Scolding his players for not boxing out for rebounds, letting opponents push them around, the UK coach waxed comic, “ You get pushed into the cheerleader and you’ve got sparkles on the face when you come over (to the bench),” Cal said. “We’re like, ‘what the hell’s on your face?’


Another James gem appropriate for ‘get-me-to-the-next-level philosophy’ at UK: “To change one’s life, start immediately. Do it flamboyantly!”

At Rupp Arena, it’s dance time again.


Eloy Vargas and Doron Lamb sat on their Rupp Arena bench chair staring up at John Calipari as if captivated by John Wooden’s ghost.

Was a teaching moment and a learning one also.

Against Dillard, Vargas, Lamb and their rookie friends showed signs that look-at-me McDonald’s All-American pizzazz is starting to transform to Team Kentucky. Evidence? Intensity is a good thing, so are poise and patience, but at Kentucky unselfishness – 28 assists is show time Big Blue Nation likes best.

Reinforcement? Cheers of approval rained down on Cal’s new kids from 21,000 assistant coaches who recognize progress when they see it.

The players. Being a McDonald’s All-America was nice but it’s history. Road ahead will be up and down, but the Wildcats are starting to get it. And savvy UK fans know the best is yet to come.


The Louisville Cardinals stung Syracuse on the road last week achieving a double-double.

1. The Cards (5-4) have a two-game home stand to be bowl eligible, but also attract full house attendance on final home dates and take Big Mo to Rutgers.

2. Signature win for Charlie Strong and a highlight reel to show recruiting prospects epilogued by two sentences, “We’re movin’ on up.” And, “Come fly with us, kid.”


Pikeville College coach Kelly Wells’ give-no-quarter approach to an exhibition at Kentucky was predictable. More impressive, the measure of Pikeville’s confidence and discipline and the coach’s command. His players’ refusal to surrender after they fell behind reflected their coach ason ahead.

Team to watch this winter for purists across Kentucky, Pikeville. Wells’ style evokes images of Brad Stevens at Butler.


University of Kentucky’s stars-a-rising receive the lion’s share of media ga-ga across the Bluegrass, but a list of returnees and pleasant surprise newcomers make a fun-to-watch list worthy of statewide interest.

At Western Kentucky: Newcomer 6-6 Juan Patillo; At Louisville: Newcomer 6-10 Gorgui Dieng; At Eastern Kentucky: Returnee 6-7 Justin Stommes; At Morehead: Returnee 6-8 Kenneth Faried; At Murray State: Returnee 6-7 Ivan Aska; and at Pikeville: Newcomer 6-8 Quincy Hankins-Cole.


College basketball’s best of the best coaches today? One man’s list – 1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke; 2. Tom Izzo, Michigan State; 3. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse, 4. Bob Huggins; 5. Bill Self, Kansas; 6. Gino Auriemma, UConn; 7. Rick Pitino, Louisville; 8. Pat Summitt, Tennessee; 9. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh; 10. Brad Stevens, Butler; 11. Mark Few, Gonzaga; Thad Matta, Ohio State.

Underrated: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin; Rick Stansbury, Mississippi State and Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt.

Headed up? Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M, Mark Fox, Georgia and Ken McDonald, Western Kentucky.

Headed down: Jim Calhoun, UConn, and Bruce Pearl, Tennessee.

Time to Cowboy Up: Tom Crean, Indiana and John Pelphrey, Arkansas.


Having seen Pikeville and Dillard play Kentucky at Rupp Arena, says here a match for fans would be Dillard versus Pikeville. Say, an opening round game in a renewed holiday UKIT. Second game? Kentucky-Indiana (December 11).

A look at UK’s non-league home games affirms this proposed doubleheader would be the most entertaining evening on the Wildcats’ pre-SEC schedule.


While we can be sure John Calipari was ‘committed’ to UMass, the New Jersey Nets and Memphis until he wasn’t, actions by Kentucky’s coach around the Commonwealth the 15 months are more impressive than by all but one of his predecessors, Tubby Smith.

Instead of the usual coach-speak and civic club circuit talk, Cal has made himself available to real people in hospital and retirement homes, lifted up individual fans, and committed to The Salvation Army this Christmas season.

Fans embrace a UK coach because of his celebrity. Kentuckians love suchmen because of their and his humanity.

Perhaps one revelation into Calipari is how he deals with over-sized children.

Case and point, DeMarcus Cousins, “I had to coach (him) a little different,” Calipari said awhile back. “I never had a guy that remotely acted like DeMarcus. So I had to figure it out. We treated him like a son. That’s what he needed. He had to grow. He was a 14-year-old when we got him here. And about 16 when he left.”

Comment. We wonder then, if Cousins was 16 (between the ears) and his son, why Calipari let him leave UK so soon?

And so it goes.

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