2-21-18 Edition on News Stands Wednesday!

2-21-18 Edition on News Stands Wednesday!



Kentucky Basketball — Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Don’t Worry, Be Happy—By John Huang

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — The Kentucky versus Missouri basketball game tonight was played with a bit of uncertainty hanging over the Rupp Arena crowd. For the record, the Wildcats steamrolled the Tigers 87-66, but the looming shadows of an NCAA investigation regarding potential recruiting improprieties has rapidly put the brakes on what should have been an escalating BBN mood meter. Thoughts of high tournament seeds, Final Four runs, and additional glory for the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball have been painfully tempered by the discovery of free lunches, underhanded agents, and “bad loans” indicative of the seedy underbelly that has permanently infiltrated the landscape of the college game. Appropriately, Pat Forde, author of the Yahoo story, was on press row to witness Kentucky’s immediate response.

Ironically, the 1978 NCAA Championship team was honored during halftime of the Missouri game with a thunderous ovation, bringing fans back to a simpler and less vulnerable era where games were played sans the impending specter of another embarrassing scandal. “We did everything we could to stay above board and to do things the right way,” said Jack ‘Goose’ Givens, who poured in 41 points against Duke during that memorable championship game. “Our coaching staff demanded that.”

I’m not naïve enough to believe that twenty-dollar handshakes weren’t commonplace back in the day. However, it’s disappointing to discover forty years later that our beloved Wildcats under the watchful eye of Sandy Bell are still one of the programs linked with the cesspool of sleaze that surrounds the NCAA. The timing couldn’t be worse, for just as tournament fever hits the Bluegrass, this garbage hits the fan. During his meeting with the media, I was hoping for some “Pitino-esque” deniability from Coach Cal about the entire matter, but he shied away from questions under the guise of ignorance.

Suffice it to say that time will tell whether anything significant develops out of these initial allegations. It’s way too early to speculate about penalties, sanctions, and vacated wins. The timing of the payments to Bam appear somewhat incriminating, but why ruin the remainder of this season by worrying about water under the bridge? Let’s let Forde write his stories and the investigations run their course.

Meanwhile, with the victory tonight, Kentucky (20-9 overall, 9-7 SEC) drastically improves their positioning for the upcoming SEC tournament in St. Louis. A double bye vaults them directly into the quarterfinals—a scant two victories from the championship game. Plus, every additional win also improves their potential seeding in the Big Dance. If the Cats win out, it’s conceivable that a three or four seed is within reach—something completely out of the question during the four-game free fall just two short weeks ago.

At that time, remember that everyone questioned the team’s resolve—from their lack of heart to their stunted basketball IQ. “I don’t think the issue (with this team) has been basketball IQ,” Calipari quickly admonished. “I think the issue has been they didn’t realize until two weeks ago how bad they needed each other. The second thing is they’re still trying to figure out who they are, then we add Jarred (Vanderbilt) midseason. I mean, that all comes together and we look confused sometimes out there on the court, which would make you believe, ‘Man, their IQ–,’ It’s not, they’ve got a good basketball IQ, they have a good feel for the game.”

Those words seemed to ring especially true against the Tigers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 14 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, and Kevin Knox with a game-high 21 points certainly looked the part as basketball geniuses. Jarred Vanderbilt with his 15 rebounds in 27 minutes was Summa Cum Laude. Quade Green and PJ Washington with 12 points apiece were definitely Dean’s List worthy, while even Hamidou Diallo came off of probation to register 11 points on 3-3 three-point shooting in his 25 minutes on the court.

Off the court, Calipari frequently talks about minimizing distractions this time of the year. As chief cook, bottle washer, and team psychiatrist, it’s incumbent upon him to make sure his team is completely dialed in for the stretch run. An internal investigation into basketball wrongdoings while Facebook cameras are rolling may be as distracting as it gets for this vaunted program, but that’s why Calipari’s paid millions each year to properly steer the ship. If somehow the ship sinks due to any culpability on his part, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of unhappy campers eventually calling for his scalp. For sanity’s sake, please say it ain’t so, Coach.

My advice for BBN is this: Ignore any news about the investigative distractions for now. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. In his nine years as head coach, Calipari has kept his nose clean and has earned enough trust with the fan base to be given the benefit of the doubt. In other words, don’t worry, be happy, and continue watching him work his magic with this young team on the court. The rest of the basketball world best watch out–March Madness is on the horizon, and the Cats are on a roll!

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Kentucky Basketball — Blitzing Bud Walton

Blitzing Bud Walton—By John Huang

(FAYETTEVILLE, Ar.) — I’ll be honest, I’ve never been to Fayetteville, Arkansas. In my mind, there was only one good reason, anyway, to visit this city of 75,000 tucked away inconspicuously in the northwestern corner of the state. Never mind that it was once named the third best place to live in the United States, or one of the best places to retire in the South, or the 24th-best city for business and careers. For me, the ONLY reason to drive ten and half hours to Fayetteville in the middle of a winter monsoon is to attend a University of Arkansas basketball game at Bud Walton Arena—especially when the Kentucky Wildcats come a calling.

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