UK back in the hunt for NCAA tourney
Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media
After the Arkansas/Georgia double whammy road catastrophe the last eight days, BBN was all but dead and the fat lady had begun tuning up for the finality of what appeared to be a definite NIT-bound post season.
Then around 7:30 p.m. last Friday night, Coach Cal addressed his friends on social media to pass the word around: “I need everybody to be loud and crazy and on their feet the last eight minutes.” And were they ever, even the deep-pocketed, high roller donors in the first 10 rows on each side helped raise the roof.
Now, as we start the first level of the NCAA post season, Cal’s boys appear to have new life and an honest shot at being invited to the NCAA’s big dance.
No other way to say it than the Kentucky Wildcats simply pole-vaulted back into the NCAA tourney picture Saturday afternoon with an electric Rupp Arena crowd at its back, beating the No. 11 Florida Gators 61-57. The win gave the Cats a 12-6 SEC regular season record and based on the SEC tie-breaker system made UK the No. 2 seed in this week’s post season tournament.
UK will play their first game on Friday against the winner of Thursday evening’s Arkansas/Vanderbilt game.
The question that begs to be asked is did the upset of Florida alone get UK an invitation? Actually, nobody short of the 12-member NCAA selection committee knows that answer, but you’ll hear and see many people, especially on the national TV networks like ESPN and CBS, give their so-called astute opinions that really is of no more importance than mine or yours. Many of those same media gurus think UK is in the tournament now that said just last Friday morning after the Georgia loss they were dead in the water and couldn’t recover, short of winning the SEC tournament and getting the automatic bid.
I’ll go ahead and jump in with my two cents’ worth. At least one win and an appearance in the Saturday semifinals will be enough, but two wins and an appearance in the Sunday championship game makes them a lock.
The bottom line will come this Sunday when CBS will televise live from NCAA headquarters or somewhere in Indianapolis, Indiana, the 2013 NCAA Div. 1 Men’s basketball selection show where we will all learn the four No. 1 seeds and all the other 64 participants.
It’s been a season particularly inconsistent and especially gut-wrenching at times for Coach Cal and BBN, but who knows, the most exciting part may lay in front of us.
Is Cal about to bring another in-state player on board?
There is only a few weeks left before the spring NCAA recruiting season kicks off for basketball players to sign, but with UK’s recent interest in Madison Central’s senior guard Dominique Hawkins, one would have to think the possibilities look encouraging for the Cats to bring another in-state player on board. No question there is interest from UK when Calipari and/or his top recruiting assistant Orlando Antiqua has personally witnessed his last five games, which involved the 11th region tournament and all four games Hawkins recently played in the KHSAA Sweet 16 state tourney.
This late season scenario involving an in-state player and courtship from UK isn’t anything new to the Commonwealth’s basketball fans. It happened several times in past years with probably the most highly visible being John Pelphrey, Richie Farmer, and the most recent of Chris Lofton.
Many longtime Eastern Kentucky Wildcat fans will remember when John Pelphrey of Paintsville wasn’t even on Eddie Sutton’s radar until all of a sudden down in Louisville Denny Crum showed interest and quickly UK extends a scholarship offer. Then Richie Farmer puts up astronomical numbers in the Sweet 16 his senior season and had the entire commonwealth, led by veteran sportswriter Earl Cox and my brother Oscar Combs, on Eddie Sutton’s case to offer Farmer a scholarship. It didn’t look like anything was going to happen with Sean Sutton and Sean Woods already on board, then entered one Dale Brown of LSU with a scholarship offer and bingo, Eddie Sutton has a change of heart, hops in a coal operator’s plane and heads to Manchester with a scholarship for Richie Farmer. It didn’t hurt that Sean and Pelphrey were big buddies and Sean had Mom Patsy on Sutton’s case to offer Pelphrey either.
Many have asked over the years if Rick Pitino could have rebuilt the program from ashes that ended in the famous Duke game of 1992 without John Pelphrey, Richie Farmer, and Deron Feldhaus, who were all Kentucky boys with true blue hearts and toughness not seen in a blue and white jersey since they graduated, except possibly Scott Padgett and Cameron Mills. Having worked for Pitino in his summer camps his eight years at UK and periodically staying in touch with him since his return to the state, I can personally tell you what Pitino’s response has always been to that very question.
I’ve heard him say on several occasions, “There is no way I could have rebuilt that program as quickly as I did without those Kentucky kids giving their heart and soul to that program those first three years.”
That story ended with arguably the most gut-wrenching loss in UK’s storied history, but the ride to the very day and time of the Christian Laettner shot was one of magic for UK fans.
The Chris Lofton story didn’t have as happy an ending. Lofton had been putting up solid numbers for two years up in Mason County under the guidance of his popular high school coach Kelly Wells, but Tubby Smith still had his doubts when Lofton was crowned Mr. Basketball at the end of his senior season. The critics all said he’s too short, a step slow off the bounce, and my favorite was that he couldn’t play defense because he’s not athletic enough with his foot speed.
If you look long and hard enough you’ll find a flaw in just about any player’s game, so after waiting as long as he could, Lofton headed south to Rocky Top into the hands of Bruce Pearl.
Do I need to refresh everyone’s memory on how that story played out? I didn’t think so.
Now here we are winding down another basketball season and we have another in-state player who us folks in the inner circles of Kentucky high school basketball have known about for three years, and now all of a sudden he finally gets the attention of the UK coach. The questions, discussions, debates, critiques, and analysis have begun.
Is Dominique Hawkins skill set good enough to play major college Division I? Is his quickness and athleticism good enough for top 25 competition? Does he have this or that?
Here is one for you to ponder: Will he play for the letters across the front of a UK jersey, or will he play for his own personal selfish reasons? I think we all know that answer.
Personally, having known and showcased Dominique’s talents on several occasions in recent years with my own events, I think the young man will be a success no matter what road he goes down. I just hope it’s not against UK like Chris Lofton’s was.
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