Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Calipari understands how to work the angles
Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. Arkansas won 71-67. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
It made for a wonderful, heart-tugging moment when Carolyn Kyles, mother of Kentucky’s Julius Randle, had to leave the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional championship game Sunday in Indianapolis with her son’s team trailing Michigan by four.
Kyles had to catch a plane to get home so she could be at work Monday.
Her son’s team rallied for a 75-72 victory, and now the Kentucky Wildcats will travel this weekend to Arlington, Texas, just a short drive from Kyles’ home in Dallas, for the biggest stage in college basketball - the Final Four.
Randle, who was voted the SEC’s preseason player of the year before he ever wore the Big Blue uniform, is one of seven McDonald’s All-Americans on Kentucky’s roster. Six of them are freshmen, and four of those are starters.
All four of the starters average at least 10 points a game, and regardless of what happens this weekend in AT&T Stadium, none are expected to ever wear a Kentucky uniform again.
Kentucky is the capital of one-and-dones.
It is where the nation’s best 18-year-olds go to sit out the one year the NBA thinks helps them mature and grow into professional players.
John Calipari, who has about a bazillion followers on Twitter, is the mastermind who saw a chance to exploit the opportunity and openly recruits kids to go to Kentucky for one year to play a little basketball and help him get rich.
The Wildcats Nation loves it, even though the kids aren’t around long enough to learn the names of streets because, like most fans, they only want one thing in this crazy world of perspiring arts. They want to win.
Who cares if the kids ever graduate? Certainly not Kentucky’s administration.
Who cares if they have the college experience? Not Kentucky, where Wildcat Lodge serves as housing for the gifted and talented players and 13 other students.
And because they all declare for the NBA draft, they don’t count against Kentucky’s Academic Performance Rating. That responsibility falls on the NCAA.
Make no mistake, the Wildcats earned their way into the Final Four. They have left no doubt they should have been a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
Of course, this is the same team that just a month ago lost three games in 10 days. Arkansas beat the Wildcats in Lexington, and Kentucky also lost at South Carolina and Florida.
While on the subject of seeds, it is now obvious the Razorbacks were hosed by the NIT. It made them a No. 3 seed, which forced them to travel to California in the second round, where they were eliminated.
The No. 1 seeds who face each other for the NIT championship tonight, SMU and Minnesota, both were beaten by the Razorbacks, and there is no need to mention that with the two victories over Kentucky, the Hogs were 2-1 against Final Four teams.
Anyway, Kentucky seems to have outlasted the growing pains of having so many young players who are used to being on a pedestal and are playing their best team basketball of the season.
Which led Calipari to say this week that he always believed this team would win every game, and if they didn’t, they just ran out of time.
This is the guy who has coached two programs that have had to vacate Final Four appearances, and the same guy who seems to blame his players in games when they are behind.
The man can coach. He knows basketball. It just doesn’t sit right that he saw the narrow-minded approach of the NBA and he made it into a business model, one that pays him $5.5 million a year plus bonuses that probably aren’t based on graduation rates.
He has seven McDonald’s All-Americans, and none is from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Kentucky is a short-term basketball factory for kids, but at least this week the parents of the three All-Americans from Texas will get to stay for the entire game.
Sports, Pages 15 on 04/03/2014