by Billy Reed
A is Atlanta, the place where UK and IU will play Friday night in the South Regional semifinals. Everybody seems to think the Wildcats will be so determined to avenge their loss to the Hoosiers last Dec. 10 that they will crush the boys in the candy-cane warmup pants this time around. To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.” Hardened by a winter in the nation’s toughest league, IU will not back down from the Big Blue Bullies.
B is for block, the stat popularized this year by Anthony Davis at Kentucky and Giorgi Dieng at Louisville. Deservedly, Davis is winning most of the national player-of-the-year trophies and will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. He’s better than Dieng at the moment, but not by as much as the hype might lead you to believe.
C is for Christian Watford of Indiana, who hit the shot that beat UK last Dec. 10 in Bloomington. I refuse to make anything of the fact that two of the most heart-breaking daggers in Wildcat history were thrust by guys named Christian.
D is for Dowe-Jones, which is not the Wall Street financial barometer but the Bellarmine dunk machine. Junior Chris Dowe and sophomore Kiesten Jones have produced jams and slams awesome enough to earn them regular appearances on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Unfortunately, ESPN doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to D-II as it should.
E is for ESPN, which is shut out of covering the NCAA tournament. This is too bad because it prohibits ESPN analyst Robert Montgomery Knight from doing the color on the UK-IU game. Would that be a hoot or what?
F is for Florida, which has been playing great ball for Coach Billy Donovan. If Florida and U of L both win their semifinals, it will match pupil Donovan against mentor Rick Pitino 25 years after they combined to lead Providence to the Final Four in New Orleans.
G is for Georgetown (the college in Kentucky, not the university in D.C.), which advanced to the NAIA quarterfinals in Coach Chris Briggs’ first season. A consistent national NAIA power, the Tigers could be headed for NCAA D-II and a new league that will include Kentucky Wesleyan.
H is for Harper, Ray, the coach who took over the Western Kentucky program in midseason on an interim basis but quickly earned the job permanently. Under Harper, the Hilltoppers improved dramatically, winning the Sun Belt tournament and a first-round NCAA game against Mississippi Valley. If Harper can recruit as well as he motivates, the Hilltoppers will be making their second-ever Final Four trip in the next five years.
I is for Isaiah Cannon, Murray State’s hot-shooting point guard. Although he didn’t show it during NCAA play at the KFC Yum! Center, this Cannon can fire with the best. He deserved his spot on the Sporting News All-American team.
J is for jump shot, a lost art in college basketball. My theory is that players have become too muscle-bound. Many of them are built more like linebackers than basketball players. This may be good for bulling your way through traffic to get to the hoop, but it robs you of your touch. Look at the decline in free-throwing shooting. I wonder if a cut back on weightlifting would lead to more shotmaking.
K is for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the first hyphenated letterman in UK’s storied basketball history. He and Davis, although freshmen, are the most mature players in UK’s rotation. They don’t seem to care about stats or stardom. They just play hard, fundamental basketball. They have to be a dream to coach.
L is for Luke Sprague, the 6-8 Bellarmine center who has missed the Knights’ two games because of a shoulder injury. He’s an aspiring physician who can’t heal himself, which has to be frustrating. Anybody who knows a good voodoo man please contact Bellarmine Coach Scotty Davenport.
M is for Murray State. The Racers had Marquette down by five late in the NCAA second round before letting the Warriors go on a 14-2 run that abruptly ended Murray’s dream of a season.
N is for New Orleans, the site of the NCAA D-I Final Four, and Northern Kentucky University, site of the D-II Elite Eight. For my money, the best place to find New Orleans food that’s close to NKU is Selena’s in Louisville. The preceding was an unpaid commercial advertisement.
O is for Ohio, our neighbor to the north that has placed an unprecedented four teams in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen (Cincinnati, Ohio State, Xavier, and Ohio). I’m happy for Ohio basketball fans so long as they don’t begin having delusions of grandeur. Kentucky has won nine NCAA titles to Ohio’s three. ‘Nuf said.
P is for Rick Pitino, who never gave up on his Louisville players when almost everybody else had. He never built the Cards into what might be called your basic well-oiled machine. But he did hold the team together and help it find ways to win. He won’t win any coach-of-the-year awards, which is too bad because he probably deserves a couple.
Q is for James Quick, the Trinity High junior who starred for both the 6-A state championship football team and the State Tournament championship basketball team. Incredibly, he got himself suspended from the Rocks’ quarterfinal win over Clark County because of a violation of team rules. Let’s hope that was an aberration, a stupid teenage mistake, instead of a character flaw.
R is for runner-up, which is where Scott County High found itself in both the 6-A football playoffs and the Boys State High School basketball tournament. I am guessing that Trinity will be a sore subject around Georgetown for years to come.
S is for stupid, which is how UK fans look when they boo any mention of Duke or appearance by a former Duke player on an arena scoreboard. Instead of being able to applaud Christian Laettner for making a great clutch play in 1992, they whine as if they were somehow entitled to win that game. Memo to UK fans: Get over it. You’re embarrassing yourselves.
T is for Trinity. What else? It’s the Shamrocks’ world and we’re just living in it. No school in history has ever won both a state football championship and the Boys State Basketball tournament in the same academic year. And, incredibly, they have a chance to repeat the feat next academic year.
U is for upset and underdog, although both are hard to find at this stage of tournaments. Of the 16 teams left in the D-I tournament, thirteen have won at least one national title. The other three – Xavier, Ohio, and Baylor – aren’t exactly Cinderellas in the Butler-VCU mode.
V is for versatility, which is what earned Bellarmine’s Braydon Hobbs the national player-of-the-year award for D-II. Hobbs can score from anywhere on the floor, but he’s an extraordinary passer. He also rebounds, steals, and blocks. Trust me, a lot of D-I teams would love to have Hobbs and Jeremy Kendle in their backcourt.
W is for William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley, the nefarious flesh-peddler who hooked up with John Calipari at Memphis and has followed him to UK. Nobody understands exactly who pays Wes or what he does, but he’s the best-connected man in sports. NBA and hip-hop stars take his calls. He is Calipari’s not-so-secret recruiting weapon and don’t let anybody tell you differently.
X is for Xavier University, mainly because it’s the only X that’s available. The Musketeers are back in the Sweet 16 again. Once of these years, they’re going to break through and make the Final Four. I like them to beat Baylor in Atlanta and earn the right to play the IU-UK winner.
Y is for the Yum! Center in Louisville, which drew rave reviews from the media covering the first NCAA basketball tournament ever held there. One of the first things Jim Host did when he began laying the groundwork for the Yum! Center was to visit NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to see exactly what tournament officials were looking for in an arena. They told him and Host made sure the arena was tailored to meet NCAA specifications.
Z is for Vinny Zollo, the 6-4 freshman forward out of George Rogers Clark High product who played an important reserve role for Western Kentucky. Zollo committed to UK when Billy Clyde Gillispie was running the show in Lexington, but was dropped by Calipari. It worked out well for both sides.