Simon Kenton, Odie Smith and a Wizard take us away

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By Bob Watkins

Three events came our way last week that touched our hearts in personal ways. Each transported us away from oil spill calamity, a perfect game that wasn’t, and other forgettables.

First, Simon Kenton High School

Tragedy testing the human spirit, merging with (basketball) success, and we get must see – “Rebound: A Basketball Story”.

A story how successive explosions in a boiler room at Simon Kenton High in October 1980 triggered an amalgam of events that shook the world of Independence, Ky., A story of a school, home boys, coaches, teachers, and a self-effacing Mr. Basketball – how they turned tragedy into a tears-in-your-eyes march to the top in Rupp Arena.

“Rebound” is compelling, a tribute in pictures, testimony and news clips to rival the much revered but fabled motion picture “Hoosiers”. The Simon Kenton story is reality rising off pages of author, Eric Deters’ book, “Pioneer Spirit” and it gets us in the heart.

Here’s an account how students, teachers and town survived boiler room blasts that snuffed out the life of a promising art student, injured many, including firemen, forced officials to move students to nearby Scott High where they were taken in by students and parents in ways hospitable Kentuckians understand.

Tragedy and night school at Scott became a preamble for “Rebound: A Basketball Story”.

By March Madness time, Simon Kenton was stamped by pundits as a happy-to-get-here little team from Region 9 with no chance. A flawed analysis coach Larry Miller turned into red meat for a pack of angry dogs. That, much as Hickory High did in “Hoosiers, the Pioneers came to realize what their steady-handed coach already knew. That tenacity, poise, pride and team can become a take-your-breath-away championship. It did. First time ever for a 9th Region team. Miller reminded his troupe again and again.

“26, 27 years later, it still gives me a thrill,” the coach said in one frame. “I’m sure it still does the same for all those who lived it.”

Today, as basketball enjoys vast popularity, “Rebound” has elements that beg for a screen play and motion picture which, given a lively script, creative casting and director who knows the game, here is big box office potential. 

We rejoice that story teller Eric Deters found a production company, Barking Fish Entertainment, and got Rebound to your television screen.

Introduction and epilogue by Nick Clooney are perfect if too brief.

You can see Rebound, KET’s 90-minute special when it comes to us a second time – Wednesday evening, July 7 at 8:30 eastern time; Thursday at 9, and Sunday, July 18 at 2 p.m.

The broader importance of Simon Kenton’s story? It echoes journeys past fof other community schools across Kentucky, many closed. From some low point, someone lights a candle illuminating the road, the possibility and a journey begins. Stir of adrenaline, emotions then reaching a summit become timeless memories in the hearts of a community.


Adrian ‘Odie’ Smith

Journeys. 65 or 15, if you’re a kid, read this, please. In 1954 Adrian Smith was a kid in Farmington, seven miles from Mayfield in Graves County. He was 5-10 and 135 pounder with no scholarship offers, save one junior college.

Fast forward to June 2010. Smith received word last week he will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield this year.

Years between 1954 and 2010 ...

JUCO All-American; U.S. Army All-Star after college twice; Pan-American Games gold medal, 1959; Olympics gold medal in Rome, 1960; 11 years in the NBA.

Two years into his time at Northeast Mississippi College, 1956, coach Bonner Arnold sent word to Adolph Rupp to send a scout.

Two years later, Adrian Smith was seated next to Rupp for a team photo. Five months later, his 12.4 points average helped Kentucky’s Fiddlin’ Five to an NCAA championship.

“If not for coach Arnold and Northeast, I would never have had a scholarship to Kentucky,” Smith said. “Probably, my entire basketball career would have been over.”

Farmington Kentucky to Springfield Massachusetts, quite a journey. Adrian Smith, I suspect, would be first to say, “... you can do it too, kid.”


John Wooden.

Tribute aplenty for the modest man from Martinsville, Indiana. John Wooden, ball coach, was much more. He left last week and we are poorer for it.

Wooden was in his time what Abraham Lincoln became after his, a revered human who knew his shortcomings. He believed no day is complete without helping someone. Like Lincoln, Wooden was a person for which no statue would be large enough, and more important, neither man would want one.

Items from his pyramid were more golden than treasure at Fort Knox and as enlightening as anything from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

• The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team, he said.

• You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you, he said.

• Be more concerned with character over reputation. Your character is what you really are, your reputation is merely what others think you are, he said.

John Wooden lived 99 years.


Beginning June 14 in London, John Calipari and his UK assistants begin a series of instructional day camps to be staged in several communities around Kentucky.

Day camp. Children must pay $75 each to participate. Although UK’s coaches cash four and five figure pay-checks every 30 days, including Calipari’s roughly $333,000-a-month ($4 million-a-year contract), parents who come up with $75 for each child, we can be sure Calipari’s day camp dollars will go to a worthy cause, right?

The UK coach’s daily day camp take might be more except some children are eliminated because their parents can’t afford $75 for day camp.

And so it goes.

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