The Joy of Kentucky Football

kentucky-football-helmet

I am a lifelong fan of University of Kentucky sports–basketball and football being my major loves.  Our basketball Wildcats have a storied history of success, winning more games than any collegiate program ever.  Add to that eight NCAA titles and numerous Final Four appearances, and being a fan is easy and rewarding.  Football, though, is another story altogether.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about our football woes. This was during the throes of one of our many downward spirals. I touched on the strength of our fans.  It’s time to give us our due.

WOE IS US

For all our basketball success, our football fortunes have been star-crossed, at best.  Football is the yin to basketball’s yang.  We are the Yankees of basketball and the Cubs of football.  Worse, we are the Kentucky of football and not in the basketball sense.

I could catalog the failures of our gridiron Cats, but I won’t.  Let’s just say that my Cats haven’t had much success.  Really, we haven’t had any success compared to the successful college football programs.  We also have the misfortune of playing in the Southeastern Conference, home of such traditional football powers as Alabama, Florida, LSU and Auburn.  Even the SEC’s lesser lights like Ole Miss, Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas have proud football traditions.  I assure you that any fans of those schools would be enraged to hear them called lesser lights.  We UK fans would just nod and consider “lesser light” to be a compliment–a solid notch above doormat.

I’m writing this as a lament about UK football.  I’m here to praise it and us, its loyal fans.  I know the history as well as anyone. I remember losing a game on TWO pass interference penalties the covered almost an entire field as time expired.  We’ve lost as time expired too many times to count.  We’ve lost to teams that had no business playing an SEC team.  We can win 1 or 2 games and still be put on probation for recruiting violations.  Yes, we cheat, too, but we don’t even win.  One of our coaches, Bill Curry, referred to a portion our fan base as “the Fellowship of the Miserable.” Few of us disagreed.

We don’t stay for wins, and we don’t leave because of losses. Sure, one or two win seasons are tough. We gut them out. It doesn’t matter if brighter skies are not on the horizon. Let’s see other fans do that.

KEEPING IT REAL

We’re real fans, more so than the devoted following of our basketball team (of which I am certainly one).  It’s easy to cheer for a perennial winner.  What of a team which disappoints or, even worse, plays down to our lowest expectations?  We still show up to the games. We watch them on TV. We hold out hope, where no sane man would.  I have a friend who routinely predicts a 9 win season, even though that never happens. This, he maintains, will be our year.

Like all fans, we embrace victories as proof of our own superiority. Young men, barely out of high school, give us a sense of well-being. We call their success our own, as though we contributed to their efforts.  Kentucky fans, though, also embrace the losses. We are not a “we” win “they” lose crowd. However, we know that there will be games–many, in fact–which we cannot win. This does not dampen our enthusiasm.

We have no Bandwagon Fans. What are Bandwagon Fans? Anyone who becomes a fan of a team at the height of its success without another explanation such as geographic proximity. For example, if you became a University of Alabama football fan during the past four years, you are likely a Bandwagon Fan. Bandwagon Fans typically live far away from their chosen school and have no academic or family connection. They aren’t bad people, but they just aren’t as hard-core as some of us. If their team falls on hard times, they can just jump to another.

If anyone jumped on the UK Bandwagon, it was back in 1950 when we won the Sugar Bowl. If you’re that old, I’ll give you a pass.

Some of us, like me, are alumni.  As at all colleges, we alums have a special bond. It’s our school.  We’re honor bound to support our teams, regardless of the pain. Many are not graduates. UK has a statewide following, much like a professional sports team. This is certainly the case with basketball, where the fan base extends border to border. Our basketball fans include many folks who not only have never attended a game, they have never set foot on campus.

While the numbers are not as great, we have those folks in our football fan base as well. They have no school allegiance obligating this devotion. They’re fans, pure simple. One thing is certain. They didn’t develop their devotion through watching our Cats dominate.

There was time when we’d pack Commonwealth Stadium regardless of our Cats’ prospects. Times change and so have we. Like all fans, we have many other sports options.  Back in the ’80’s, you might have 2 or 3 games on TV over the weekend. Now, there are games on all day and night. Only the truest of the true Blue make it to every game now.  It’s like belonging a club.  We show up rain or shine, win or lose or just plain lose.  There’s something admirable about that.  Or sad.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE REASONABLE

My wife and I look happy, even though it's likely that this was taken in the midst of a crushing defeat.

My wife and I look happy, even though it’s likely that this was taken in the midst of a crushing defeat.

For many college football fans, every season comes down to one game–a loss.  One loss scuttles the whole season.  That loss is the difference between contending for the BCS Championship and a disappointing one or two loss season. I can’t imagine that situation nor do I want to do so.

Even UK fans can have a season ruined by one game.  With us, it’s usually the Louisville game.  We really want to win that one. Some seasons, we only win a couple of games anyway. Losing to U of L just seems unfair. However, if the Cats finished, say, 9 and 3, we’d get over a U of L defeat.  Not so at schools like Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and others.  For those teams, the three losses would be catastrophic. While a UK coach might look forward to a multi-year contract extension, coaches at these schools would find their very value as human beings questioned.

I don’t want that. We already have enough of that with our basketball team. My dream is having a shot–a real shot–at the SEC Championship every few years. In the other years, we’d still be respectable–no more one win fiascos.  I don’t want to spiral into a funk with every loss.  We have basketball season for that.

It’s fun to upset teams. We beat LSU when they were No. 1. We won’t forget that. Or beating Tennessee with a wide receiver at quarterback. Or finally beating Steve Spurrier. Merely losing to UK can ruin a team’s season. If we were a great program, those instances would be little more than footnotes.

As I write this, the 2014 season is one week old.  My Cats are 1-0!  Our second year coach, Mark Stoops, impresses me. He’s not a Kentuckian, but he understands us. He preaches patience but knows the Cats can do better. Hey, that sounds like me! I wish him great success (just as I have his many predecessors).  However, I confess that the prospect of success scares me. We’ll no longer be Punter U. We won’t look at the schedule and immediately write off 3 or 4 games.  We might actually expect to win every game.  That’s a lot of pressure for a fan.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

Here’s Something Funny: How I Talk

I talk funny.  No, I don’t have a speech impediment.  If I did, it’s likely that very few people would mention it.  Then again, maybe they would.  Still, I talk funny, and I know it.

I didn’t always know it.  For 18 years, I thought I sounded just fine, better than most, in fact.  I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky, the very heart of Eastern Kentucky.  Harlan is Appalachia at its finest.  We’re proud of our heritage.  We’ll tell anyone who’ll listen.  Unfortunately, many times those people won’t understand a damn word we say.

When I was 18, I went to college but not very far from home.  I attended the University of Kentucky, a mere 3 hours (at most) from Harlan County.  There were a lot of Eastern Kentuckians at U.K., and those folks became my friends.  As one friend from Bell County (Harlan’s next door neighbor) told me “We’re like Indians.  We’re lost when we leave the reservation, so we have to hang together.” So we did.

I met people from different places, and they talked funny.  They had accents.  We did, too, but not so bad.  I knew plenty of people in Harlan with accents, heavy mountain accents.  They were hard to understand even for a native.  I didn’t sound like that.  Or so I thought.

When I was 19, I met a girl from Louisville–Kentucky’s big city.  She broke the news to me about my accent. For example, I pronounced the word “light” all wrong.  It has a short “i”, not the long, flat “eyyyyyye” I used.  In fact, I was practically saying “lat” instead of “light.”  Damnation.  Who knew?  She complained about my mumbling.  Little did she know, that she should been have happy that she couldn’t understand everything I was saying.

Once someone talks about your accent, the relationship is doomed, I suppose.  Nevertheless, I realized that I did have an accent.  I’ve been cognizant of it ever since.  You can’t tell I have an accent by reading this, but I do.  It’s a pretty thick one, too.  You know what?  I don’t give a fat damn about it.  [“Fat damn” sounds really good with my accent, by the way.]

What kind do I have?  Appalachian.  That’s not southern.  I don’t sound like Foghorn Leghorn, although folks in the Northeast will ask me if I’m “from the South.”  I’m not from the South.  I’m from the Mountains.

Our accents are a mountain drawl combined with a distinct mumble.  Our words run together but kind of slowly.  We aren’t fast talkers.  Go to Michigan if you want to hear that.  Our accents have so butchered the English language over time that translation is often required:

You from upair? Translation:  Are you from up there? [Up where, you ask?  Upair.]

Them yor people?  Translation:  Are you related to those people? 

He done got farred.  Translation:  That fellow was discharged from his employment.

Gimme em warcutters.  Translation:  Please hand me those wire cutters.

He thoed that out the winder.  Translation:  He threw that item out of the window.

I et a mater sammich yesterdee.  Translation:  I dined on a tomato sandwich yesterday.

Them fellers fit upair.  Translation:  Two gentlemen from up there engaged in fisticuffs.

He clum upair and worked on the chimley.  Translation:  He climbed up on the house to repair the chimney.

These are but a few examples, extreme though they may be.  We’ll say “tar” instead of “tire.” Someone may be “lexicuted” rather than electrocuted.  We fish with “minners,”not minnows.  People live in hollers or they may holler at you.  We’ll even “GARNT-tee” something for you.  We can do all of this but you won’t have a damn clue if we explain it to you.

So, you’re thinking:  “You people are ignorant hill jacks.”  No, we’re not.  That’s just how we talk.  I guess we have our fair shares of idiots, but almost all of us have accents which render us, to some extent, incomprehensible.

Now, not all mountain people have accents.  Some work very hard to get rid of them or to never have them.  I’m cool with that.  That’s not how I was raised, though.  We just talked how we talked.  We didn’t really think about it much, except for my mother who was a stickler for correct grammar.  She pointed out to me on many occasions that only the lowest of trash used double negatives.  “Ain’t” made her practically shriek, but not as much as “hain’t” did.

I do feel a bit bad for the folks who lose their accents.  They become sort of like people from Nebraska.  Try to say something and sound like someone from Nebraska.  You can’t, because no one knows what they sound like.  I can identify an Appalachian accent in about 5 seconds.

One group I don’t care about is those who shed their accents because of their shame of coming from the mountains.  They don’t want to sound like us.  It’s embarrassing.  They’re above that.  They are the same folks who pontificate about people in the mountains need, when in truth they wouldn’t care if the place was used for nuclear waste disposal.

So, how thick is my accent?  I was eating at my neighborhood Waffle House recently, when the waitress asked where I was from.  When I said Harlan, she said “I thought so.”  Oh, she then added:  “Half my family is from Harlan–the half we don’t speak to.”

Recently, I was in Las Vegas and struck up a conversation with a couple of strippers on the street.  One asked:  “Where are you from?  Your accent is so cute.”  I gave her five dollars.  I also met aspiring rapper, Young Cheese.  Even he asked me where I was from.

These ladies like my accent.  That's not so bad, is it?

These ladies like my accent. That’s not so bad, is it?

The obvious downside to my accent is that I am often incomprehensible to the untrained ear.  I once ordered lunch in a restaurant in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The waitress couldn’t understand me nor could I her, yet we were both speaking English.  My lunch companions worked as translators.

My own wife struggles to understand me, and we have lived together for over half our lives.  Here is a typical exchange:

ME:  What’s for dinner?

HER:  What?

ME:  What’s for dinner?

HER: Huh?

ME:  DINNER!  WHAT ARE WE HAVING?

HER: Don’t yell at me!

ME:  I have to yell.  You can’t hear.

HER:  What?

ME:  YOU! ARE! DEAF!

HER:  I am not! You mumble!

…and so on and so on. It always ends with my wife pointing out that her friend Lisa can’t understand me, either.  Maybe I do mumble, but you’d think 26 years would be enough time for someone to get used to it.

 [In my defense, I would note that my father often accused my mother of mumbling.  He was almost completely deaf, yet never conceded that his lack of hearing was an issue.]

As a lawyer, my accent comes in handy.  I handle many cases in Eastern Kentucky and sound the part with no real effort.  Occasionally, it’s a hindrance.  I recently tried a case in Illinois, and explained to the court reporter that she may have problems understanding me.  She did.

Mountain accents help in other ways, too.  They are really good when you threaten someone.  If someone with Locust Valley Lockjaw says he’ll kick your ass, you’ll laugh in his face.  When someone from Harlan says it–male or female–it has a ring of truth to it.  “I’ll whup your aaasss” just sounds serious.  It also makes curse words sound better. “Hell” comes out like “Haaaiiil.” Shit becomes “I don’t give a shiiiiiit.”  It creates an emphasis that others lack.  There are many more examples that good taste prevents me from discussing here.

The only time my accent bothers me is when I hear it.  I’ll hear myself on video and think “Man, oh man, I sound like a weed bender.”  I guess I do.

Naturally, many folks hear us talk and think we’re dumb. Many of these people are, in fact, dumb people with different accents. Sure, if we’re interviewed on TV, there may be subtitles, but we’re not dumb–at least not all of us. If you ARE dumb, a mountain accent won’t help. Nevertheless, it won’t actually make you dumb.

Of course, we aren’t the only people who sound funny.  New Englanders sound funny, too.  So do folks from Wisconsin.  New Yorkers are hard to understand, just like people from the deep south.  Appalachians just have the disadvantage of being in perhaps the last remaining group of people who can be openly derided with no repercussions.

Now, read this again in your best Appalachian accent. If you still don’t get it, watch the TV show Justified. It’s set in Harlan County, and they do a good job with the accents. Maybe you’ve seen the Patrick Swayze classic, Next of Kin. There are some good accents in that one, with the exception of Liam Neeson. I’m not sure what he was doing, but I’ve never heard anyone sound like that.

Aint’ got nuthin left to say about this hyere–nary a word.  I’m still upair in Lexington, but I’ve still got people in Harlan.  Reckon I’ll stay hyere, unless I end up somewheres else.  Proud to know you uns.  Holler at me if you get up this way.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

The Republicratic Commonwealth of Kentucky

Someone sent me an insightful email suggesting that each state in the United States declare its own sovereignty and refuse to follow any federal laws except those they find acceptable. It also recommends such things as jailing of illegal immigrants, drug testing welfare recipients, no gun laws and other acts of sovereignty. It got me thinking about doing this in my home state, the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

If you’ve read much of this self-indulgent blog of mine, you know I’m a lawyer. Anything like that email sets my mind spinning. For instance, states can’t refuse to follow federal law. We have a local sheriff here in Kentucky who claims that he won’t enforce any new gun laws and will arrest anyone who does. Once you get past the laughable image of this guy trying to arrest FBI and ATF agents, you can see that such defiance–if real–amounts to insurrection.

This type of “sovereignty” is secession from the union. States have no right to secede. Before you start screaming, read Texas v. White from the United States Supreme Court. That’s the law. There are exceptions. First, there is armed rebellion. Second is by agreement. Since Kentucky doesn’t have a military (The National Guard belongs to the feds but more on that later), we’d have to hope for agreement of the rest of the states. Let’s face it, we’re Kentucky. They might let us leave. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Nevertheless, I’m willing to ignore the United States Constitution and decades of jurisprudence to entertain the notion of Kentucky as its own sovereign state. What would we look like?

GOVERNMENT

We call Kentucky a Commonwealth, just like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts call themselves. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a leftover from colonial times. The only problem I have with it is that it sounds vaguely communistic. Let’s move on.

As some Americans are aware, we have a republican democracy. We elect representatives who (theoretically, at least) represent our interests. They pass laws which are executed by our executive branch and enforced by our courts. Some believe we have the greatest country on Earth with the greatest form of government. I say bullshit to that.

If we’re going to secede, that means we don’t like the federal government. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. There’s no point in looking anything like it. Kentucky has 4.25 million people spread over a mind-boggling 120 counties. Each county is already its own little fiefdom with elected officials, courthouses, graft and whatnot. I say let each one run its own affairs. They can set up their own governments. Most will likely become dictatorships in short order–assuming they aren’t already, but give the people what they want.

We’ll be a sort of confederacy of counties, but we’ll still need a constitution of some kind. Kentucky has a constitution, of course. It is approximately 60,000 pages long. Okay, that’s a lie, but it seems that long what with all the bizarre amendments made to it over the years. It’s going to have to be revamped.

One problem is that it is very similar to the United States Constitution. It makes little sense to break away from federal rule only to keep in place the same framework that led to our secession. We probably need the Bill of Rights, and Kentucky’s is pretty similar to the feds. I say we copy the Bill of Rights except the Second Amendment which will now read:

The right to keep and bear arms is absolute and shall not be limited or constrained by any law, regardless of reasonableness or necessity. “Arms” means anything that can kill people or animals, whether intentionally or accidentally.

We probably should replace “Governor” with something like “King” or “Pharaoh” in the rest of it. Honestly, I’ve never read the whole thing. I don’t think anyone else has, either. Maybe we can keep the rest of it.

We’re not the smartest people. Let’s don’t make it too complicated. Maybe we can start out with anarchy and see what happens.

Regardless of the form of government, what will life in our new nation be like?

GUNS

This is an easy one–no gun laws. None. No knife or sword laws, either. Why can’t I defend my family with a saber if I want? Maybe I want to scatter bear traps around my yard. So be it. Napalm doesn’t incinerate people. People incinerate people.

No background checks. Why can’t a crazy man defend himself from real and imagined threats? The nuttier you are the more guns you should have. How else will we protect the criminally insane?

Next topic.

RELIGION

This is another easy one. We’ll have the Ten Commandments posted everywhere. I mean everywhere–schools, buses, government buildings, private property, sporting events. Without that irrational United States Supreme Court to interfere, we can even post the entire Book of Deuteronomy if we want. Any kid who can’t describe how to build the Temple can’t graduate from high school.

We’ll pray in school–all day long if we want. It will have to be a Christian prayer, of course. Anyone caught on a prayer rug will be subject to ridicule.  In fact, we might make such ridicule a constitutional right, too.

We’ll even include somewhere in our new Constitution that Jesus wrote it. That will seem crazy at first, but in a few decades people will debate whether or not it is true.

MILITARY

This one is tough. We can’t have a military. Okay, I know some of you are thinking: “Hey, the state runs the National Guard. That’s our militia.” Well, sort of but not really. Since 1903, the National Guard has been run by the feds and–more importantly–funded by the feds. We can’t do it. Plus, who are we going to fight? Hopefully, it won’t be the United States military. Have seen the toys they have?

Remember that we’re going to have plenty of weapons. I think we’ll have enough to fight off an invasion from Indiana or Tennessee. Besides, the chances of anyone wanting to take over Kentucky are pretty remote.

FINANCES

Kentucky receives about $13,000 per person in federal money per year. That’s a hell of a lot. I’m not good at math, but it’s at least billions of dollars each year. Wow.

We have all kinds of taxes in Kentucky–income, sales, property, usage (WTH?) and a bunch of others. I have no idea what it amounts to but I’m sure it’s not close to what we need. Now, that we’re off the federal teat, it’s time to tighten our belts. If we don’t, we might have to raise tax rates to 120% or so. We can survive but how?

Go for the Gold

With the feds off our backs, they’ll close Fort Campbell and Fort Knox. We’ll give them 48 hours to come and get their gold from Fort Knox–maybe we can keep a little of it, too. Would they really miss a couple of tons?

Schools

Okay, on the surface, this may seem like a big deal, given that we are dependent on the feds for school funding. Not so. Ever heard of home schooling? That’s what everyone did back in the Good Old Days when everything was better. Teach your own kids, you lazy bastards.

Our state universities will be in peril. We should be able to offer at least a few on-line courses at the Universities of Louisville and Kentucky to keep the basketball programs afloat.

Police/Fire

Here’s where our friends in the National Rifle Association will help us. Let’s take the idea of an all-volunteer school security force and expand it to all law enforcement and public safety. With the schools closed, these volunteers will be eager to help out. Besides, every community has dozens–if not thousands–of people who want to carry a gun and wear a badge. Hell, most of them would probably be willing to pay the state.

We have a long history of volunteer fire departments. Let’s just do more of that.

Highways

I’ll concede that federal highway money is helpful but only to the extent that you need highways. I suspect that Kentucky has the highest number of ATVs per capita of anywhere on Earth. If any state is ready for dilapidated highways, it’s this one.

What is Kentucky best known for? If you said illegal meth labs, that may be correct, but I’m talking about horses. We have lots of horses, but I hardly ever see anyone riding them. Saddle up.

Unemployment

Good lord, we have a lot of folks drawing disability checks in Kentucky. No more SSI and don’t expect Kentucky to pick up the slack. If you’re too infirm to work, you should really think about moving to the United States. They have systems for that kind of problem. We don’t.

Here’s how it works. If you can work, get a job. If you can’t, leave or maybe you just starve to death. Problem solved.

As far as welfare, bear in mind that’s another federal boondoggle. It has no place in our utopian world so don’t worry about drug testing. We Kentuckians will be free to consume copious amounts of drugs without fear of Big Brother staring over our shoulders.

Currency

We won’t use the worthless United States currency. We will print our own money, just like in the old days. It will bear pictures of Adolph Rupp, Daniel Boone, Jim Varney and other famous Kentuckians.

Rather than the worthless crap printed in the United States, our money will be backed by a secure commodity. We will go on the Coal Standard. Our money will be backed by the valuable coal reserves in our state, which we will now be free to mine and burn with abandon. Of course, we can’t burn too much of it or we will have to switch to the Weed Standard which also runs the risk of being burned.

HEALTHCARE

Let’s get one thing straight. No government health care–of any kind. Medicare and Medicaid–those behemoths of our former overlords–are gone. They won’t be replaced, either. We’ll adopt what I call the Bachmann Plan: If you want health insurance, get a job. If you can’t get a job, see comments above.

In fact, health care in general will be discouraged. Haven’t we all had enough of a bunch of holier-than-thou eggheads with stethoscopes telling us how to live our lives? The Founding Fathers didn’t put up with such nonsense.

You may be concerned about such inane things as public health, life expectancy and rampant disease. Given that our health care services are likely to be substandard, at least by so-called “Western” standards, we don’t need a bunch of sick people lingering around making the rest of us sick. A quick death is much better for everyone.

IMMIGRATION

We’ll just be flat against it–in all its forms. No one from a foreign country, which now will include the United States, is allowed. Anyone trying to float across the Ohio River will immediately be attacked by our fleet of coal barges. We’ll just shoot people from Tennessee. That won’t bother any Kentuckian. Hell, it probably won’t bother anyone in Tennessee, either. West Virginians will be a problem, but they’re so similar to us it won’t be a big deal.

We’ll round up all the foreigners and deport them. Anyone who looks, dresses, talks or acts the least bit different will be a suspect. We’ll just dump them in the nearest bordering state.

This may sound like a daunting task, but remember–this is Kentucky. Most people are trying to leave, not get in. We can expect enthusiastic cooperation.

We will make limited exceptions for immigrants who obtain a 5 Star Visa. This visa program will be administered by the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.

“HEMP”

The people of Kentucky want to legalize hemp but can’t because of the narcs in D.C. Now, we can cut right to the chase and legalize marijuana. Why? Well, it’s our number one cash crop for starters. Also, we can dispense with the foolishness of pretending we want to wear hemp clothing and shred our hands on rotted hemp rope. We want to smoke the stuff, not wear it.

MISCELLANY

Like any young nation, we’ll face challenges. Someone like Ashley Judd will try to become dictator. Louisville will probably try to declare itself a city-state like the Vatican. We’ll need to change the state motto from the axiomatic “United We Stand. Divided We Fall” to something less incongruous. We’re up to these challenges.

What if it doesn’t work out? Simple–we’ll just accept massive amounts of foreign aid from the good old U.S. of A. If that doesn’t work, we have a massive stash of chemical weapons in Richmond. That will invite an invasion by the US and the establishment of a new government. That one never fails.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Wildcats and Cardinals: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

If you’ve read this curious blog of mine, you know that I am an unabashed fan of University of Kentucky athletics, especially basketball.  I hold it too high esteem, and I make no apologies for that.  As a UK fan, I am now faced with one of our periodic conundrums of a bitter rival winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  In this case, it’s the University of Louisville.

I began writing this before Louisville beat Michigan, but I thought it better to wait a few days to finish.  During the title game I found myself pulling for Louisville, yet disturbed when they won.  A few days’ decompression has allowed me objectivity of a sort.  Otherwise, this could have devolved into a pathetic rant fit only for a therapist to read.  Now, let’s continue.

For the uninformed, UK and U of L are easily the two largest university in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky.  The schools are similar with excellent professional schools.  U of L, situated as it is in the city of Louisville, has an urban flare while UK has a more college town feel to it.  Basketball, though, is where the schools are most similar.  Both programs have been wildly successful and are money-making machines.

For the uniformed, you need to know a few things.  Louisville is pronounced “Lou-a-vull.”  Call it “Louie-ville” and you’re immediately exposed as an imposter.  Also, it’s “U of L,” not “UL.”  Kentucky is “UK”–never, ever “U of K.”  Should you call it “KU,” just leave our state.  We UK fans arrogantly call ourselves Big Blue Nation or BBN, for short.  I have no idea what U of L fans call themselves.

We like to point out that UK has won EIGHT titles to U of L’s measly three.  Truth be told, UK and U of L have each won three since 1980.  Both have also had other Final Four appearances during that time.  There have also been ups and downs for each program.  U of L can claim to be the steadier of the two, having had only two coaches in the past 40 years.  During that same period–coinciding with the retirement of Adolph Rupp–UK has had six coaches.  Fans on both sides can debate these points until the listener is embarrassed to belong to either camp.  Of such things, I suppose, are rivalries built.

I’ve always struggled with the U of L rivalry, because during my formative years as a fan I didn’t hate U of L.  They were like any other state school.  I pulled for them unless they played UK, which they never did.  In fact, I had more bitter feelings toward Western Kentucky University, which had blown my beloved Cats out of the NCAA Tournament in 1971.  Such players as Wesley Cox, Rick Wilson and Junior Bridgeman played at U of L, and I thought of them as Kentuckians, too.  My hatred was reserved for Indiana University and the University of Tennessee in those days.

U of L won its first NCAA title in 1980 beating UCLA.  I remember cheering for U of L.  It had only been five years since UCLA’s last title (beating my Cats, no less), and I couldn’t stomach the idea of them winning yet another title.  Plus, Darrell Griffith played for U of L.  He was a Kentuckian, and easily the best player in college basketball.  I liked him.

Then, it happened.  Suddenly, U of L was exalted as THE best team in Kentucky, better than UK.  One might say that was sensible, given that they had just won the title.  UK, however, had won the title just two years previously, to go with the FOUR other titles won by Coach Rupp.  We chafed at the notion that U of L was now better.

The drum beats started for UK and U of L to play.  Nimrods in our state legislature proposed a LAW requiring it.  This took priority over such things as our state’s crippling poverty and inadequate schools.  Although no law was passed, the demands for a “dream” game continued unabated.  (As an aside, playing UK is only important to our other state schools when they actually have a chance to win the game.  It seems much less important if a beating is in the offing.)

Of course, it eventually happened but not in the regular season.  In the 1983 NCAA Tournament, the Cats and the Cards met, and the Cards won 80-68.  That game has taken on such mythical status that U of L fans now describe it as a thorough pummeling.  That it was an excellent, thrilling OVERTIME game is largely forgotten.  Also forgotten is that UK beat the Cards TWICE the next season–once in the regular season and again in the tournament.  Oh well.

The remainder of the 1980’s consisted of U of L fans declaring their superiority much like UK fans typically do.  Then, it happened again.  The damn Cards won the title in 1986!  By then, my ambivalence toward U of L had been replaced by jealously and seething hatred.  I was in law school at UK (where I had also earned my undergraduate degree) and at the height of my irrational fandom.  My only hesitancy is that I couldn’t help but like U of L head coach Denny Crum.  He was an excellent coach and seemed like a good guy.

I guess I should also point out that the Cats CRUSHED the Cards 85-51 during that championship season.  Freshman Rex Chapman–who spurned U of L for UK–lit them up for 26 points.  While U of L fans probably wore their championship regalia, we had t-shirts that said:  “CATS 85, NATIONAL CHAMPS 51.”

During this time, UK’s coach was Eddie Sutton.  Besides crippling NCAA probation, Coach Sutton made one unforgettable contribution to UK lore.  He is the one who coined the term “little brother” in reference to U of L.  It stuck.  For that, we thank him.

After ’86, U of L began a gradual slide into mediocrity while the arrival of Rick Pitino as head coach in 1989 pushed UK back to the top.  Pitino won the title in 1996 and was runner-up in ’97.  Then, he made his ill-fated departure to the Boston Celtics.  UK didn’t miss a beat, winning the title again in ’98 under Tubby Smith.

Of course, Pitino famously returned to the Bluegrass State in 2001, at LOUISVILLE, re-stoking the hatred, at least of him.  Oddly, though it wasn’t until 2012 that either program won another title.  Now, we have them back-to-back, and IT IS ON again.  I, for one, am glad to see it, but there are legitimate concerns about keeping the peace in our fair commonwealth.

With the rivalry white-hot again, our state is torn asunder.  Well, not really.  Most Kentuckians are UK fans.  By “most,” I mean virtually everyone.  We do have some risk of driving a wedge between our largest city, Louisville, and the rest of the state.  Of course, we already don’t think of Louisville as being part of Kentucky.  It might be in Indiana or even Ohio for all we know.  Regardless, we should make an effort to get along now.  Both fan bases have recent success to embrace.

The main problem is that the fan bases hate each other.  We Kentucky fans think of the U of L faithful as chinstrapped, knuckle-dragging, troglodytes whose penchant for angry, drunken rages is exceeded only by their desire to fight.  The U of L crowd views us as pompous, self-important, egotists who insist that the Cats are always the best, regardless of overwhelming contrary evidence.  Both crowds are right, of course.  How, though, can we bridge the gap and allow each to enjoy its own success?

First, we should embrace the commonalities of our two cultures:

  • Both universities are in Kentucky, although–as noted above–U of L’s exact location is unknown.
  • U of L’s mascot is the cardinal, Kentucky’s official state bird.  UK’s is the wildcat, the official state woodland beast of Kentucky.
  • Each school prefers a truncated version of its nickname–Cats and Cards, as opposed to Wildcats and Cardinals.
  • Each logo bears a fierce caricature of its mascot.  Even the most die-hard Card fan must admit there is only so much that can be done to make a cardinal frightening.  They’ve done the best they can with it.
uk

A fearsome wildcat prepares to maul the on-looker.

uofl

An ill-tempered cardinal preparing to chirp an opponent into submission.

  • Rick Pitino returned both schools to prominence.
  • Neither school is Duke.
  • Both schools hate Indiana University.
  • U of L is in Jefferson County, home to the most Cards fans AND UK fans.
  • Both fan bases are excellent at producing insulting or angry t-shirts:
beatukBIG2

Some are busy and require study.

hatelou

Others are simple and to the point.

  • Basketball is the most prominent feature of both universities, rather than some haughty, egg-headed academic program.

Based on this common ground, I propose we move forward, if not together, then certainly without the animus which has marked our past association.  Toward that end, I offer several suggestions to my fellow UK fans to smooth the waters:

  • Let us avoid calling U of L “little brother” or posting any memes like this one:

calpit

  • Do not continue to point out that EIGHT NCAA titles are far superior to THREE.  This will only antagonize them, plus it requires them to do rudimentary math.
  • Under no circumstances should we write poorly constructed limericks like this one:

There once was a coach named Rick

His style was flashy and slick

One night after dinner

He met a real winner

Now they call him Coach Rick the Quick

  • Do not point out that Pitino has referred to UK as the “Roman Empire” of basketball and “Camelot.”
  • Do not emphasize that UK has won more basketball games than any college team ever.  Ever.  In the history of mankind.  Ever.
  • It is petty to continually note that UK has won 7 of the last 10 meetings between the two schools.
  • It is even more petty to point out that UK is 21-12 in the series since 1983.
  • Do not mention that UK won its third NCAA title before Rick Pitino was born.
  • Do not magnanimously congratulate U of L fans on their big win.  Nothing infuriates them more than UK fans patronizing them with insincere praise.

Any of these actions will just make matters worse.  The U of L fan will foam at the mouth and start pointing to football, baseball, women’s basketball and softball as proof of Louisville’s superiority.  You, then, might start raving about cheer-leading and the rifle team.  Inevitably, the U of L fan will want to fight you.  (Trust me on this one.  It always happens).  You both may then inexplicably hurl homophobic slurs at each other.  Nothing good will come of this.

The last time I encountered a Louisville fan, we had a dust-up over his sitting in my seat.  Nevertheless, I’m pleased to report that my personal animus has receded to the point that I actually wanted U of L to beat Michigan.  As I have aged, my self-esteem is longer wholly dependent on whether a group of strangers wins ball games.  Family and friends  are now more important.  Of course, my beloved Cats are family, and the Cats have the Number 1 recruiting class next year–perhaps the best class EVER.  You better button down those chin straps.  See you next season.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

2012-13 Kentucky Basketball: What the Hell Just Happened?

I am unabashed fan of the University Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.  I have been for over 40 years.  We just completed one of our more disappointing seasons with an ignominious loss to some school called Robert Morris University–in the first round of the freakin’ NIT, no less.

I can assure you that this is only one of many blog posts about our beloved Cats’ season of shame.  I do not write this in effort to contribute to any journalistic analysis of our season.  I do not suppose to have any original insights or solutions.  Indeed, it is far too late now.

Instead, I write this as a form of therapy, a cathartic exercise which will help me deal with my grief.  Oh, I tried to work through it with a series of obscenity-laced tweets during the Robert Morris game, but those only brought me temporary solace.  Twitter tracked my mental and emotional deterioration:

photo2

Before tip-off, optimism abounds.

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Half way into the first-half, despair sets in.

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Depression

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Uncontrolled rage

We feel such losses deep in our souls.  Kentucky Basketball is important to us.  How important?  Far too important, I suppose.  The sun isn’t as bright.  The flowers smell of the foul stench of defeat.  Our value as human beings is lessened.  Other than that, we’re in good shape.

Our fan base’s immediate reaction is to blame our coach.  John Calipari, of course, is our coach.  Cal, we call him, much like we called Joe B. Hall “Joe B.”  Tubby Smith was Tubby.  Billy Gillispie was “Billy Clyde.”  Rick Pitino was just Pitino.  Eddie Sutton was Eddie, until he got us in NCAA trouble, then he was Sutton.  Adolph Rupp was, naturally, Coach Rupp.  We are familiar with our coaches.  We love them until they stumble.  Then, they are blithering idiots incapable of coaching in a church league.

I’m not going down that road.  We won the NCAA Championship just last year.  Cal can coach.  I know that.  You can’t give him a total pass, but he didn’t forget how to coach in just a few months.

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

To be honest, not much about this season went well.  We lost to Louisville.  We also lost to the likes of Texas A&M and Baylor–at home!  We didn’t win the Southeastern Conference Championship, and we got crushed by lowly Vanderbilt in our first game in the SEC Tournament.  Nevertheless, let’s talk positives.

Nerlens Noel is a positive.  He was exactly the type of player described coming out of high school last year–high energy and great on defense.  His offensive game, as predicted, was raw.  Overall, though, he was great.  He had the unfortunate timing of following Anthony Davis at UK, but Nerlens was outstanding.  As a bonus, he seems to like being at UK.  We love that.

Jarrod Polson is a positive.  Polson is the back up point guard.  He is from Nicholasville, Kentucky–about 15 miles from UK’s campus.  He came here as a walk-on and is the kind of player that Kentucky fans love.  Considering his athletic limitations, he played well.  He hustles and is tough.  We like that.  He’s the kind of guy who will be able to live the rest of his life as Ex-Cat, meaning he will always be a celebrity here.

We beat Florida the last game of the regular season.  We thought we had no shot, but did it.  That was sweet.

We signed another excellent recruiting class for next year, maybe the best ever.  But, that’s really a positive for next year.

That’s it.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Boy, oh, boy, where do I start? I know that a lot of folks say that it’s unfair to criticize college players.  I understand that but disagree.  First, these are grown men–young but adults.  If you can join the Army, vote and get married, you’re an adult.  Second, playing basketball at UK brings with it opportunities disproportionate to one’s contribution.  All UK fans can name numerous men who have made post-collegiate careers of being Ex-Cats.  That may not be sensible, but it’s a fact.  If you’re going to get all the praise, you have to be willing to take some of the heat.  Coach Cal has said many times that “Kentucky isn’t for everyone.”  Indeed.

Recruiting:  Since Cal has been at UK, he’s recruited the following NBA players:  John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  He’s spoiled us.  This year, he brought us Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin.  As fans, we just considered the roster reloaded.  It didn’t work that way.

Cauley-Stein was as good as advertised, meaning he’s a raw prospect.  He has a lot of work to do and played like it.  I don’t think anyone was surprised.  He didn’t really improve during the season–a rarity for one of Cal’s players.

Poythress and Goodwin were the two who frustrated us most.  Poythress looks like a player at 6′ 7″, 240 pounds.  He’s quick, athletic and strong.  Unfortunately, on the court, he reminds us of Richard (“Master Blaster”) Madison, a heralded recruit from the 1980’s.  As one of Madison’s coaches said, Richard played “just good enough to get you beat.”  Poythress has the look of a player who doesn’t like playing.  I’m not sure coaching can fix that.

Goodwin plays hard–maybe too much so.  We grew weary of his wild, head-down drives to the basket that resulted in hopeless shots or charges.  He never seemed to understand his role in the offense.  His defense was inconsistent–or nonexistent–all season.  In bygone days, a player of his type would have logged 10-12 minutes a game behind more veteran players.  We probably would have seen flashes of greatness making us carp that he deserved more playing time.

I am convinced that both Poythress and Goodwin have great potential.  If they come back to school, we’ll see different, better players.  I hope we get a chance to find out if I’m right.

Nerlens’ Knee:  Just when started to see signs of consistent play, Nerlens Noel blew out his knee, a gruesome injury that ended his season–and ours.  An under-achieving team lost its best player.  Cal said it best:  “After we lost Nerlens, it’s been torture.”  And so it was.

Point Guard:  In Cal’s three previous seasons, our point guards have been John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague.   All three played one year, and all three were NBA 1st round draft picks.  This year’s point guard was Ryan Harrow, a transfer from North Carolina State.  Harrow is the most difficult kind of player to critique.  He doesn’t have the skills to play the position at the level Cal needs.  I feel for the young man.  I really do.  It has to be a difficult, pressure-packed situation.  Facts are facts.

The coaching staff doesn’t get a pass on this one.  Cal recruited Harrow in high school.  He saw a year of him at NC State and a year of him in practice.  He had ample evaluation time.  Again, I feel for Harrow.  I’m convinced he has played the best he can.  He was put in a position where success wasn’t possible.  That one goes on the coach.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

I don’t know that I learned anything new.  It’s more like I re-learned some things (if that’s even possible).  Maybe I was just reminded of some stuff.

Championships are hard to win:  I’ve been a UK fan since 1970.  UK has won 4 titles.  It’s not easy to do.  Winning one year doesn’t mean you’ll win the next year or even make the tournament or even win one game in the NIT.  (see 1978-79 season).

Losing your whole team is tough:  Imagine this:  Your alma mater wins the national championship.  Then, all its starters and its sixth man leave.  They are replaced by freshmen.  Your school is the only Division I team in the entire country that doesn’t return even one player who started even one game.  What would you expect?  At Kentucky, we expected a strong run at another title.  Perhaps we’re unreasonable.

Cal is an excellent coach, but not a magician:  This team never meshed. Maybe it was the lack of dependable veterans.  Maybe it was the wrong mix of talent.  Whatever the reason, the light bulb never came on.  Cal couldn’t get them to buy in.  He’s done it so well before that I don’t think I can hang that one on him.  Like I said, these are men.  They didn’t act like it.

You need a bench:  UK had no bench this year, at least no players upon whom we could count for steady play.  Not only was this an in-game weakness, but there was no risk of any under-achieving starter losing his job.  Cal says this won’t ever be the case here again.  I believe him.

So, there here we are, a disastrous season at an end.  How bad was it?  We were 21-12 and finished second in our conference.  That’s a train wreck at my alma mater.  I’m over it now.  Besides, next year, we are going to be LOADED!

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

The Strange, Sad Case of Billy Gillispie

This was perhaps the last smile we saw on Billy Clyde’s face.

If you’ve read my posts, first, I apologize for rarely making a salient point.  Second, you know that I am a dyed-in-Blue University of Kentucky sports fan.  I have been since I was 8 years old.  That’s 42 years for those scoring at home.

In my time as a resident of Big Blue Nation, as we somewhat arrogantly refer to ourselves, I’ve seen some odd things.  We once lost a football game on consecutive pass interference penalties with time running out.  The Cats also once gave up a 75 yard Hail Mary pass with no time left to lose a football game.  These stories, as they relate to football, are many and varied.  Basketball, on the other hand, has brought mostly joy.  Oh, we remember the 1984 National Semi-Final game when the Cats shot 3 for 33 in the second half.  Then, there was Christian Laettner’s dagger to the heart in 1992.  Those, however, are mostly blips on the Big Blue radar.

Probably, our biggest disappointments have come off the court with our occasional run-ins with the NCAA’s Draconian rule book.  Questionable ACT scores, money in envelopes, etc., have blighted our landscape.  Of course, like any True Blue fan, I can offer you vigorous and persuasive defenses for all our transgressions.  Perhaps I will do so in a future post.  Now, though, I turn to the strangest period in UK sports–the Billy Gillispie Era.

I suppose it’s hyperbole to refer to a two-year span as an “era,” but that’s what we call it.  Billy G as we lovingly called him, succeeded Orlando “Tubby” Smith as Kentucky’s basketball coach in the Spring of 2007.  Smith had finished an 10 year run as coach which included a national championship.  He won that title in his first year as coach and was never able to repeat.  In fact, despite some near misses, Tubby never got the Cats back to the Final Four, an unforgivable sin.  Some called him “Ten Loss Tubby” in reference to his losing at least ten games in a season several times, despite averaging 26 wins a season in Lexington.  By the 2006-2007 season, many fans felt like Tubby’s time was up.

Smith did the smart thing and jumped at the chance to leave UK and coach the University of Minnesota where he still coaches.  UK fans rejoiced!  Message boards lit up!  Now, we would get us a coach to push us back over the top!

Who would it be?  Now, we UK fans believe everyone wants the Kentucky job, except maybe Mike Krzyzewski. Maybe.  Would it be former UK All-American and NBA coaching royalty Pat Riley?  What about former coach and current villain Rick Pitino?  John Wooden was 96 years old at the time, but maybe he would come back.  While the fan base was engaged in its own demented fantasy world, the university was pursuing candidates who might actually want the job.

At first, it sounded like it might be Rick Barnes, the surly and moderately successful coach at the University of Texas.  That didn’t pan out.  What about John Calipari at Memphis?  Nah, we don’t want that guy.  We settled on Billy Donovan, hot-shot coach at the University of Florida.

I rarely spend time on message boards but couldn’t resist during those days.  People were using software programs to track flights between Lexington and Gainesville, Florida.  Donovan was spotted at various locations in and around Lexington.  I even heard that a clandestine meeting had been held on the tarmac of undisclosed airport to hammer out the final details.

Bottom line:  No deal with Donovan.  He wanted the Orlando Magic job, which he took and then quit 5 days later.  Oh, well.  Then, the name Billy Clyde Gillispie rose to the top.  We in BBN knew Billy Clyde.  Why?  Because his Texas A&M team had just upset the accursed Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament–at Rupp Arena.  Thus, this otherwise obscure coach was already something of a hero in BBN.  What did it matter that none of us knew anything about him?  A lot, as it turns out.

Gillispie was announced as the new head basketball coach at UK on April 6, 2007.  As is our practice, a large and unnecessary pep rally  was held.  Billy G was introduced to the fans.  They cheered wildly.  He said all the right things.  Let the good times roll!

Gillispie seemed uncomfortable in front of those fans.  He said the right things but looked like a guy who wanted to catch the next bus out of town.  I chalked it up to being in the spotlight for the first time.  Wouldn’t any of us be nervous?

Then, there were rumors that Gillispie told his A&M players he was leaving via text message.  If true, that was odd.  Hmmm.

It took no time for people to start beating the drum for Billy G–or Billy Clyde as many called him.  He was a relentless recruiter.  He was tough, not soft like Tubby.  He pushed his team.  People called him The Warrior.  He was a great X’s and O’s coach.  We were confident that we’d hit a home run when  we were still in the on-deck circle.  No honeymoon ever ended as abruptly as this one.

My first problem was with Billy G was his disturbing resemblance to Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame.  I couldn’t get past it.

Separated at birth? I would rather have given Squiggy a shot at the job.

Of course, I’m joking–sort of.  He does look like Squiggy.

The first problem most other folks had with him was called Gardner-Webb.  That’s a college.  I knew that because that’s where Artis Gilmore had gone to school before he attended Jacksonville State.  UK fans now know G-W because they laid an 84-68 ass-whipping on UK in Gillispie’s second game.  There were other ignominious losses, but the Cats wound up going 12-4 in the SEC, and Billy Clyde was even named SEC Coach of the Year.

Despite our ending the season on a bit of an uptick, there were signs that things weren’t right:

  • Our recruiting was going nowhere fast.  He was getting commitments from players no one knew, even an 8th grader in one instance.
  • His media performances were tepid, to say the least.  Even his Coachspeak was limited to repeatedly saying that the Cats must “compete.”
  • Rumors abounded about his off-the-court lifestyle.  It sounded as if Austin Powers had taken the reins of our beloved program.
  • We heard stories of grueling game day practices with feet bleeding from non-stop running.
  • Worst of all, Cats finished 18-13 and lost to Marquette in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Billy G’s second season was not an improvement.   VMI was our Gardner-Webb beating the Cats 111-103.  Billy G famously insulted an ESPN reporter during a game.  The Cats sputtered to a 22-14 record losing in the freakin’ NIT!  Billy G sealed his fate by stating that being the face of the basketball program wasn’t part of his job.  If he had any supporters, they didn’t make much noise.  Three stories, in particular, rankled Kentucky fans:

  • Perry Stephenson, a forward from Louisiana, was the epitome of the player who needed fill out his frame.  He never did.  The story was that Billy G, incensed over Stephenson’s lanky frame, forced him to eat a box of Pop Tarts.

Did Billy G really force Perry to eat a box of Pop Tarts? We thought so.

  • Billy G became so irate with Josh Harrellson that he forced him to stand in a bathroom stall during halftime of a game.  Later, he forced Harrellson to ride back to Lexington in the equipment van.
  • He even kicked one of the walk-ons off the team for laughing on the bench during a loss.

Right or wrong, UK basketball players are beloved.  Beloved.  Abusing them–either through grueling practices or outright embarrassment– was unacceptable, especially when the NIT was the result.

By the end of that second season, Billy G had dribbled out the clock. Game over. UK fired him on March 27, 2009. The next day, the ex-coach held a bizarre farewell press conference. He said he was happy and that everything was great. With that, he was gone. Sort of.

First, he decided to sue over his well-deserved firing. Second, he re-appeared on our local news six months later after being arrested a mere 20 miles from Lexington after a late night of golf and drinking. Like a bad penny, he kept turning up.

He then did an obligatory stay at John Lucas’s rehab facility. He emerged a new man, contrite over his old ways. Declaring himself a non-alcoholic, he was ready for a second chance.

We were just glad that he’d already been fired when this mug shot was taken after Billy G’s DUI arrest.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “there are no second acts in American life.”  Of course, this was before Big Time Sports.  Billy G would get another chance.  Texas Tech was that chance.

Texas Tech was the ideal job.  Lubbock is in his home state, far removed from the national spotlight.  He had great success turning around moribund programs at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M.  Texas Tech is, at its heart, a football school.  Basketball success is a bonus.  He would have time to build what he wanted.

It took Billy Clyde two years to squander one of the top jobs in college basketball.  Somehow, in a year at Tech, he has himself back on the ledge.  By the time you read this, he may already be fired.  In the past couple of weeks, the following events have transpired:

We know the end of this story.  He is on his way out.  Remember this, too:  His immediate predecessors were Bob Knight and his Hellish offspring, Pat–two coaches never to be confused with Dale Carnegie.  There may not another chance after this.

I’ve never met Billy Clyde.  Those I know who did during his time in Lexington were not impressed.  I don’t know what his problems are or why he’s blown two chances that others would fight for.  But, I know his type–Me.  In my own way, I used to act like him:  Drink too much and dismiss it as no problem.  Force my way upon others, even when my way was not effective and sure to alienate those around me.  Fight with authority when that authority held all the cards.  Then, when things turned out poorly, we wonder why things went so wrong.  I was younger than Billy G when I started to grow up, to take responsibility for my actions and find a better way to live.  Growing up before one grows old is always preferable. Any time otherwise successful people pull their world down around them bad things are under the surface.

I don’t what his medical leave is about, but I hope he is addressing whatever demons have created his problems with living.  A cynic (realist?) would suggest that this is a ploy to force a buy-out of his contract.  Maybe it is.  I make no judgment about his drinking or his emotional state.  I don’t engage in pop psychology.  What I do know is that people who consistently sabotage themselves have problems with living that a new job won’t cure.

I’m not so naive that I believe Billy G would have the same conflicts if he were consistently winning games.  Look no further than Bob Knight for an example of contemptible behavior being deemed acceptable if balanced with enough winning.  Billy G, it seems, has too few wins to be Bob Knight.

Will he get another chance?  Probably.  Sports fans are forgiving, especially if contrition is shown.  A record of success doesn’t hurt either.  Billy is still a young man, 52 years old.  He’ll likely emerge as an assistant somewhere. Sadly, he may repeat this tired act again.  Even though he wasn’t success at UK, I wish him well.  For as many negatives as we’ve heard, many other people saygood things about him.  Like of all us, he’s probably a mixture of good and bad.  No one, it has been said, should be judged by his worst.  Whatever gnaws at him compromises that good.  Let’s all hope he gets a third act and is ready for his role.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

My (Big) Blue Heaven

Since the end of our glorious University of Kentucky Basketball season, I’ve been jotting down my thoughts on the year from time to time.  Many of you have reveled in the 2012 NCAA Championship, but may feel slightly unfulfilled.   You’ve asked yourself:  “I know I’m happy, but what does HE think?”  Now, you can know.

  • In the span of one year, Anthony Davis was named a McDonald’s High School All-American; NCAA Freshman of the Year; NCAA Defensive POY; Consensus National POY; SEC POY; First Team NCAA All-American; and Final Four Most Outstanding Player.  In addition, he won an NCAA championship; is the likely 1st pick in the NBA draft; and has a chance to play on the Olympic team.  If this isn’t the best year a college player ever had, it’s got to be close.
  • I can’t overstate how impressed I am with the job John Calipari did this year.  It’s tough enough to meld a team of stars and potential stars into a cohesive unit.  When many of your players are straight from high school, it’s even tougher.
  • The post-championship statewide Trophy Tour was pure genius.  Cal knows his audience.  I also really liked including Joe Hall and Herky Rupp.  Hall has become something of an elder statesman of UK basketball, but Coach Rupp has been largely pushed into the background.  The Rupp family has spent far too much time defending his legacy.  It was a nice move to include Coach Rupp’s son in the celebration.  Well done.
  • Speaking of Davis, his high school team went 6-19 his senior year.  I can only assume his teammates were less than skilled.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of my favorite players ever at UK.  He played hard on both ends of the court with the same demeanor at all times.
  • I’m the worst at evaluating NBA potential.  I’m the guy who thought Rajon Rondo would be out of the league in 3 years and that Ron Mercer would be a perennial all-star.  With that qualification–and as much as I like MKG–I really question his NBA skills.  I just wonder if a player his size without a reliable jumper can be a star.  I know he can play in the league, but will he justify being a top 5 pick?  Probably (see my comment on Rondo above).
  • I have the same questions about Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague but for different reasons.  There are players like them in every major basketball conference.  What sets them apart?  I’m not sure.  I hope they have great success, but I will be surprised.
  • Don’t be surprised if Darius Miller plays in the NBA for a long time.  He has the size and skills to do a lot of things well.
  • Eloy Vargas impresses me.  Like a lot of folks, I had hoped he would be a big contributor on the court, but he wasn’t.  Despite attending three colleges, he got his degree.  Plus, by all accounts (including that of my 10 year old son), he’s a nice young man.  A lot of players would have been frustrated with his situation.  He embraced the experience at UK.   I wish him well and hope he gets a chance to play for pay.
  • There has been all manner of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the end of the UK-IU series.  Name the most exciting moments from the last 20 UK-IU games.  Ok, Mike Davis’s mental collapse is one.  Watford’s jumper is another, and that just sucked.  For whatever reason, the game wasn’t that important to either UK or IU.  I suspect that it’s because neither school is all that fired up about a tough pre-conference game.  Add to that the obvious close friendship between Cal and Tom Crean.
  • Speaking of schedules, I used to believe that a tough pre-conference schedule was a key to being tournament-ready.  Take a look at other schools’ schedules.  Duke rarely plays a good team on the road.  All its tough games are at home or neutral sites.  The same is true of many top teams.  Teams loading their schedules with killer home and home series are a thing of the past.  Seeding for the tournament is too important to get saddled with 3 or 4 non-conference losses.
  • I suppose it’s a function of age, but the Cats winning the title did not fill me with the unbridled joy of, say, the 1996 title.  I know it had been 14 years between titles, but now 14 years just doesn’t seem that long ago.  Plus, I guess I’ve reached the point where a bunch of children winning a tournament doesn’t REALLY make my life any better.
  • The NBA’s “One and Done” rule is here to stay.  I heard a recent interview with NBA Commissioner David Stern, and he expressed his view that the rule works quite well.  I agree.  It gives the NBA a one year screening tool to weed out those high school players with holes in their games or,  as in Anthony Davis’s case, to discover those who are far better than originally thought.  I don’t see the NBA changing it any time soon.
  • A by-product of the One and Done Rule is that predicting college basketball’s powers year-to-year is now almost impossible.  Right now, most assume that Louisville and Indiana are two favorites to win the title next year.  We’ll see.  Once you mix in all the incoming freshmen, the landscape may change dramatically.
  • People pay too much attention to the RPI during the season.   It’s not a game-to-game measuring stick.  It’s designed to place a value on a team’s entire season.  That’s why looking at your school’s RPI in December is useless.  Now, if your school LOSES to bunch of low RPI teams, you’ll see the difference come seeding time.
  • I guess the big recruiting “get” is Nerlens Noel and his flat top fade.  He seems to be an engaging young man and willing to embrace Big Blue Nation and all its madness.  Here’s hoping that BBN tempers its expectations of him.  He’s not Anthony Davis.  Davis was a once in a generation talent.  Let’s cut this young man some slack and let him develop as a player.
  • I’ve heard a lot of debate about whether Davis and similar short time Cats should have their jerseys retired.    Why not?  If the honor is to recognize great basketball players, it shouldn’t matter if they played one year or four.
  • It doesn’t bother me at all if a student leaves college after a year to play pro basketball.  For most, that is their career goal.  I’ve never known anyone who was harmed by attending college, even for a year or two.  They’re not being exploited.  They are being given a golden opportunity to change their lives and the lives of future generations.  Plus, the education is always available.  Shaquille O’Neal just earned his doctorate.
  • Of course, the downside to winning the championship is that it feeds the beast.  I fear that out-sized expectations have returned.  Remember folks:  Getting to the Final Four is hard.  Winning the tournament is even harder.  Enjoy the ride.
  • It’s hard now to imagine that Billy Gillispie coached at UK, but he did.  He gave me the gift of seeing what it’s like for UK to be irrelevant.
  • I hope our YUM! envy passes soon.  I realize that Louisville plays in a palace now, but I don’t care.  Rupp Arena is the home of the Cats.  Maybe it needs more upgrades and isn’t the prettiest venue, but I like it.  The last thing we need is a white elephant that can’t ever be paid off.
  • Can we stop with the talk that UK spends too much money on sports?  Here’s how it works:  Right or wrong, college sports generate  huge dollars.  The argument seems to be that UK should take all that income and re-direct it to academics.  Now, the football revenue–coming largely from the SEC–could be pilfered for quite a while.  The basketball program would quickly dip into irrelevance without paying coaches top money and spending on top flight facilities.  It doesn’t cost the university a dime.  Get over it.
  • While we’re talking about academics,  I’m certainly no intellectual nor I am an academic snob.  I have two degrees from the University of Kentucky, and I’ve done quite well.  It must not be nearly as awful a university as I hear others complain about.
  • Was the 2012 team the best ever at UK?  I don’t have any idea.  The ’96 team certainly had more depth and experienced talent.  The ’78 team was the only one that I thought would win every game it played.  My Dad would have said the 1948 team.  You can only compare teams and players to the their competition.  In its way, this team was every bit as dominant as UK team I’ve seen.  That’s good enough for me.
  • Calipari is ahead of his colleagues on dealing with modern college basketball.  The top shelf players want to attend college for a year, maybe two.  Cal has created a system to allow them to do that if they have the skills.  Yes, there is a revolving door, but that’s going to be the case with all the top talent.  UK just has more of these players than other schools.  That being the case, the Cats will be a top team more often than not.  I expect this will even out some in the next few years, but for now let’s enjoy the ride.
  • There will be annual speculation about Cal leaving UK.   I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  One, he failed as an NBA coach and the media (especially ESPN) holds to the idea that the NBA is the pinnacle of success.  The other is that UK, despite its success, is just not held in high regard.  There is never speculation about Roy Williams or, rarely, Coach K.  The implication is that a coach would be insane to leave either of those jobs, but equally crazy to stay at UK.  It wouldn’t surprise if Cal did jump back to the NBA at some point, but I don’t see it being the yearly flirtation that it was with Rick Pitino.
  • There’s been uproar over Cal’s views on scheduling.  He’s 102-14 with a title.  I’ll defer to him on that.  Like I said, he’s ahead of the curve.  I’m willing to bet he’s right about this, too.  I’ve heard comments like:  “They can’t expect to keep asking for big money if they don’t deliver a great home schedule.”  Really?  If you have season tickets, turn them in.  I’m pretty sure UK can unload them.
  • The best news since the title has been that a good friend of mine has purchased two seats behind the UK bench.  Sweet.  This fits well with my personal philosophy.

So, there you have it–the random thoughts which bounce around in my head from time to time.  Now, what we will look like next year?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012