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Kentucky basketball rises to No. 1 where it counts, Haiti

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By Bob Watkins

Kentucky basketball climbed to the pinnacle this week.

Polls. Associated Press, USA Today, Sagarin, pick a poll. Forget unbeaten Texas.

Any poll without Kentucky at the top, goes begging for credibility.

Here’s why. Last Sunday, UK’s coaches, players, former players, boosters, and local television, put 18-0 and adulations aside and raised more than a million dollars for Haiti relief.

“It’s emotional,” John Calipari said. He’s right.

Fans, including rival coaches Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, Dr. Orlando Smith and Texas’s Rick Barnes, made donations.

Credit goes to the Man from Moon (Pennsylvania). Calipari did two remarkable things.

• Took the lead. Celebrity coaches at any Flagship U. should use bully pulpits to seize the day.

• Second, deflect credit. “People and Kentucky fans, this state and people all over this nation called in. I don’t know what to say,” Calipari said. “It’s emotional. We just spent a day and all you people did it. I just want to thank you. Thank you, Kentucky. Right now, as we speak, (the Red Cross) is spending the funds. It’s going where it needs to go and that’s what makes me feel good.”

Yes, relatively speaking, Kentucky basketball stands at a sunny pinnacle this week. Feels good enough to set off a celebration not seen since, maybe March 31, 1998, day after UK’s last NCAA title.

Hoops for Haiti. You can help too through the American Red Cross.

BASKETBALL MID-TERMS

College hoops in Kentucky 2010 best ever?

At mid-term, unbeaten Kentucky and teams called Cardinals, Hilltoppers, Racers, Eagles, Colonels, Tigers and Panthers, have made basketball best in decades in Kentucky.

Top shelf teams in SEC, Sun Belt, Ohio Valley, Mid-South and Great Lakes Valley.

Kentucky at 18-0 could be 24-0 by February 13 when Tennessee visits for a match worthy of prime time Saturday on ESPN. Louisville is 12-6 and struggling, in the unforgiving Big East. The Cards will get tougher and better.

Western Kentucky is Sun Belt’s best; Murray State, Morehead and Eastern Kentucky are 1-2-3 in OVC like old times; Georgetown is 13-3, Kentucky Wesleyan 17-2 and Pikeville 12-2.

OVC leader Murray State is glossy 16-3 and 8-0, takes a seven game win streak into January’s third week.

Morehead is 12-6, but 7-1 in the OVC. The Eagles have won eight straight. And here comes Eastern. The Colonels (13-6) have an 18-game home floor win streak and play six of their last nine in Richmond including Morehead this Saturday.

Kentucky Wesleyan has won 15 of its last 16 and one game behind Southern Indiana (16-0) in the Great Lakes Valley. Campbellsville is 13-5 after a win over Mid-South Conference rival Pikeville Bears (12-2) who were No. 6 in NAIA rankings.

College hoops in Kentucky 2010, has it ever been better?

STATE ALL STARS?

Post-season state tour of college seniors all-stars could be hugely popular and entertaining. Tour stops? Arenas Pikeville to Corbin, to Covington to Owensboro, Bowling Green and Murray with roster possibles: A.J. Slaughter, Jeremy Evans and Anthony Salley from Western, Tony Easley at Murray State, Kenneth Faried of Morehead, Josh Taylor, Eastern Kentucky.

Desmond Stephens, Kentucky Wesleyan, Edgar Sosa, Reginald Delk and Jerry Smith from Louisville, Ramon Harris, Perry Stephenson and Mark Krebs from Kentucky, Kyle Saxton, Georgetown, and Jonathan Clark and Maurice Thomas at Pikeville, and Nestor Colmenares of Campbellsville.

COACHES & INTEGRITY

‘A good coach has the interest of his players, school and his coaches as the most important demand of his job.’

        – former high profile college football coach.

Nobody in the media herd connected the dots last week, but Bob Knight’s coach and integrity flap fit Lane Kiffin like a skull cap, Brian Kelly too.

Kelly then Kiffin lied to their student-athletes at Cincinnati and Tennessee, and skipped town like money grubbing coward$.

Both got a media free pass because Knight’s remarks were old news in the wake of new indignation targeting Mark McGwire, Gilbert Arenas and Jim Leavitt.

Knight’s opinion on integrity  was addressed by Sporting News columnist John Feinstein who gave The General a thumbs up, then sniffed and wrote, “(it) entirely missed the point.”

Casting a couple of stones at Kentucky basketball along the way.

“... Kentucky has proven time and again that winning is the only thing that matters,” Feinstein reminded us, then closed with: “The bigger point is college athletics has lost its way–and that’s a lot more complex issue than John Calipari, Bob Knight or the University of Kentucky.”

College athletics has lost its way of course, and over-paid ball coaches is a legitimate point of contention. But singling out Kentucky “... entirely misses the point.”

For that, consider U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remarks the other day. Captain of the basketball team at Harvard in the 1980s, Duncan spoke at an NCAA officials function recently and The New York Times quoted, “ ... (my) time as a college athlete was one of the most valuable periods of (my) life.”

But, college basketball players today are “... simply passing through your institutions on their way to something else. Some of them make it, some of them wash out very, very quickly.”

Duncan recalled growing up in Chicago and “...coming across many former college stars playing pick-up basketball on the streets.

“They helped to make their university successful,” he said, “and in a couple of cases they’d actually helped the universities win national championships, but at the end of the day, they didn’t have a degree. They didn’t have anything to show for it.”

Coaches and integrity. If just one coach signs a contract then leaves for a dream job, he hasn’t only sold out on his players but educated them how to do business.

Kiffin, Kelly, Calipari and the rest should pursue their dream jobs by all means.

If only college presidents had nerve to hire coaches predicated on Arne Duncan’s model – “Basketball coaches and universities that hire them can do better at graduating their star athletes,” he said. “If you can’t graduate two out of five of your players, what’re they doing at your university?”

And so it goes.

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