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Reasons to play college hoops in Kentucky

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By Bob Watkins

What basketball off season?

This week: Reasons why, best-of-blue chips should play college hoops in the Commonwealth. If they can cut it of course.

In Lexington 24,111 reasons. Average attendance at UK games in Rupp Arena last season. Best in America. More than a thousand over capacity, more than any NBA franchise.

In Louisville 19,397. Fan average at UofL games, well beyond Freedom Hall capacity. Third best in the nation, after Syracuse.

In-state, a combined average of 43,508 fans watched our state’s kingpins on game nights. Add regional and national television audiences, and nowhere else at any level is there a bigger stage for hot shots than the Bluegrass State. For those who can cut it of course.

Kentucky, I love this place.

TWITTERIN’ CAL ‘GETS IT’

John Calipari twittered Big Blue Nation last week, he’s staying at Kentucky. Peculiar, a re-assurance one season into a long term contract. Cal’s nip-it-in-the-bud statement came on the heels of ...

• A severe stretch of logic connecting him to free agent LeBron James.

• Chicago media was abuzz, linking Cal to the NBA Bulls.

• And, ESPN went nuclear with Cal calculations.

To his credit, Calipari demonstrated, like Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall and Dr. Orlando Smith, he gets it, this Kentucky job. For now.

Billy Clyde Gillispie had no clue. Eddie Sutton was paralyzed by the pressure and naive enough to let an assistant recruit by Fed-Ex. And, turned his head while Eric Manual had a designated hitter for his SAT exam.

Rick Pitino? Crooner Tom Petty had his number. “It’s good to be king, if just for awhile ... to be there in velvet, yeah, to give ‘em a smile.”

A walk on water at Kentucky was okay, but to be king in Boston was better. Besides, he didn’t like Lexington’s restaurant selection.

So, Calipari gets it. Good thing too, because UK fans today are more savvy, more wary after a collective broken heart, broken contract and move to Louisville by Pitino.

View here: Calipari wants to coach professionally without hassle and drag of NBA regular seasons that ESPN’s Avery Johnson has called a waste of time. Nor does Cal care to suffer overpaid prima donna players who ignore any coach not named Phil Jackson.

Next best place to coach professionally? University of Kentucky. So, Cal gets it ... for now.

At $4 million a year, one twitter to re-assure Big Blue Nation isn’t much price to pay is it?

ATHLETICS-ACADEMICS HARMONY

Athletics and academics harmony on a college campus in Kentucky? At Centre, right? Transylvania? Georgetown? Maybe all three. How about an NCAA big business D-1? Dial in Western Kentucky University. Number of student-athletes who picked up diplomas at Western last Saturday – 60.

Revenue sports, football and basketball, 20 players earned degrees, including basketball’s A.J. Slaughter, Jeremy Evans and Anthony Sally. Cumulative grade point average for 412 Hilltopper student-athletes was 2.93. On the current sports landscape, amazing.

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A.J. Slaughter has auditioned for 17 NBA clubs hoping to hear his name called June 24 in New York. A second round probable if drafted at all, Slaughter’s options, after adding 15-20 pounds, are: 1. Free agency giving agent Lance Young leverage to match his client with a team. 2. International basketball, west or east. 3. With a sociology degree, pursuit of an MA, and a real job.

ABDUL-JABBAR SPEAKS

The tallest voice in sports weighed in on too-young hoops stars and the NBA issue. Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said at banquet in Omaha the other day, the NBA’s minimum age for entry should be 21.

Stop the presses.

“... (too) many (kids) deprive themselves of the emotional and physical maturity necessary to meet on-and-off-court challenges,” he said via The Associated Press.

When he played, athletes went to class and earned playing time from upperclassmen ahead of them. “When they got to be professional athletes, they were a lot better qualified,” Abdul-Jabbar said through the Associated Press.

“If college weren’t the right place for a player, as an alternative, he should play in a minor league or developmental league.”

A disturbing sense of entitlement exists, he said, among many of today’s young pros. “They (NBA) get precocious kids from high school who think they’re rock stars— ‘Where’s my $30 million?’

“Attitudes have changed and the game has suffered because of that, and it has certainly hurt the college game.” 

Later, Abdul-Jabbar told students at Boys Town about his three national title teams at UCLA under John Wooden.

“Coach Wooden encouraged me to be more than just a jock,” he said. “He said if I let my intellectual life suffer because I was so into being an athlete that I would be less than I could be. I would tell all students to pursue your dreams but don’t let your education suffer.”

Abdul-Jabbar graduated in four years with degrees in English and history.

TIM COUCH

Tim Couch, a bust? USA Today Sports Weekly listed its NFL all-time First-round QB busts last week and The Deuce was second behind Ryan Leaf, then Akili Smith, Heath Shuler and Andre Ware.

In fact, Leaf was a fraud-on his way to becoming a felon. Smith’s inflated reputation was result of a fevered stampede among NFL drafters.

Shuler and Ware peaked out at Rocky Top U. and Houston respectively.

Couch was drafted by desperate (Cleveland Browns) owners with a team badly coached and poorly stocked. Worse, Couch was thrown into the fray too soon behind a bad offensive line that let him take a beating.

In fact, Couch left Kentucky a year too soon. Yet, in the end, he walked away from the NFL wounded, humbled, but rich and on to a better gig – broadcast booth to watch and second guess Joker Phillips.

And so it goes.

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