Kentucky finds its (over-hyped) ‘third scorer’ – Porter-Harris-Stevenson

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By Bob Watkins

One advantage of standing at this corner for more years than I will admit, is witnessing the annual parade of remedies on “how to fix the Wildcats.”

Big Blue Nation assistant coaches know their hoops and some have reasonable ideas, but still take cues from the media.

A few weeks ago Jay Bilas spoke five words that shook UK’s Nation to its socks. ESPN’s hoops analyst had apparently discovered basketball’s Dead Sea Scrolls. “Kentucky needs a third scorer,” Bilas said.

Behold, a Cecil B. DeMille moment.

Big city broadcasters, column and beat writers, ever impressed by out-of-town spin, jumped it. And, Dick Vitale did what Vitale does, recycle it.

If only Billy Clyde Gillispie could find a third scorer. Trade for one? Check the local employment office? Shop Wal-Mart?

Ridiculous, right? Gillispie dismissed the idea and he was right.

Because basketball is still five-against-five, support Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson must be done doing what politicians do, form a committee. Gillispie did. Against Vanderbilt Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson and Michael Porter made 12 of 16 shots, 30 points and 15 rebounds. Presto.

Through 16 games, Meeks and Patterson attempted 406 of UK’s 836 shots and scored 231 of 426 field goals. Not going to change.

I think Bilas’ idea was intended as solution by committee. The media herd didn’t get it.

A little history ...

• In 2004-05 UK didn’t have enough basketball for Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. Patrick Sparks wanted to share it, and Rajon Rondo wanted to dribble until the shot clock said :03 then go one on everybody.

• A season later the trend was Kentucky had no go-to-guy. Sniff.

• Last season’s popular shortcoming was no point guard.

UK fans remember two-and-a-committee models if media types don’t.

• 2001 and 2002 Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans were double-digit scorers on back-to-back co-SEC championship teams.

• 1997 Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson.

• 1993 Jamal Mashburn and Travis Ford.

Kentucky said good-bye to a basketball statesman last week. Morton Combs was 96. Revered at Carr Creek, a legend in eastern Kentucky, and Hall of Famer.

Combs knew about winning ball games, knew how to motivate kids, knew how to catch smallmouth bass. More, he knew the value of quiet in a time of too much noise.

On a sunny October day last year, Combs gave audience to half dozen old ball players, a coach and an author in his living room on Carr Creek Hill. His eyes twinkled as he twined his finger tips together almost reverently and listened as the men paid homage, fussed over him. Then he smiled a young man’s smile and listened some more.

In the winter of life, Combs was an amalgam of hospitality, modesty and good humor.

His ears perked a bit when the question came. Morton Combs’ face lit up like a county fair.

“In all your years playing and coaching and seeing basketball, who was your favorite player,” he was asked.

A 96-year-old Hall of Famer must have a list of favorites longer than the trip to Lexington. Combs paused then grinned like George Will. As if he knew a thing before everyone else. His audience leaned in to hear his reply.

“Well,” he said in a voice soft as your favorite pillow, “I thought my son was pretty good.” The room erupted in laughter. The old coach beamed perhaps at his political correctness, but more, at the economy of his response.

Glen Courtney Combs was a Kentucky high school all-star, was Kentucky Rifle at Virginia Tech, and played professionally in the NBA and ABA. Morton Combs’ achievements in basketball are much heralded. In the end, he was a gift to us. His life was, in part at least, a symbol of modesty ahead of pride, praise deflected to others, value of good humor and that wisdom is knowing the value of things not said.

“Mr. Combs lived 96 years and he didn’t miss nothin’,” a friend said.