Posted on: January 6, 2011 1:11 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2011 1:34 pm

Enes Kanter Situation Close to a Conclusion

Posted by Matt Jones

With Kentucky close to entering SEC play on Saturday versus Georgia, the status of the elephant in the UK locker room is also about to be determined.  A source has confirmed that today is the day when Enes Kanter's final appeal will be heard by the NCAA.  The Turkish big man's saga has been a confusing one.  After initially being ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA due to benefits he accepted while a member of a Turkish basketball club, Kanter's appeal was then delayed after the Cam Newton decision.  Kentucky went back to the NCAA, citing supposed "new information" and since the NCAA agreed to rehear the case, Kanter and UK have been in limbo.

Now, according to sources, Kanter will face the NCAA appeals board this afternoon, with a decision expected within the next 72 hours.  Because the Kanter situation has been deemed an "appeal", it is assumed that Kanter lost his rehearing with the NCAA, although no official ruling has been released.  The appeal this afternoon will likely represent the final stage of Kanter's eligibility determination by the NCAA, and one way or the other, Kentucky and Kanter should get closure on the process.  Many NBA scouts project Kanter to be a potential Top 5 pick in this year's NBA Draft, although his father has stated that if allowed to play next season, he will return to the University of Kentucky.

For the state of Kentucky, the "Free Enes" campaign has gone non-stop for over three months.  By next Monday, we will know if it worked.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 31, 2010 6:30 pm
Edited on: December 31, 2010 9:24 pm

Josh Harrellson's career day sparks Kentucky


Posted by Matt Jones
College basketball rivalry games are often defined by unlikely heroes who step up and deliver performances that immortalize them as legends of the program for years to come. And when it comes to unlikely heroes, very few have been more surprising than Josh Harrellson , who ensured he will never want for a free meal in Kentucky for the rest of his life after spurring UK to a 78-63 win over Louisville at the Yum! Center.  The man that Kentuckians call "Jorts" (due to an infamous picture taken of him wearing jean shorts on his recruiting visit) scored 23 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in an effort that even he labeled after the game as "shocking."  Shooting 10-for-12 from the field, Harrellson scored by doing what unlikely heroes do, being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of opportunities -- in this case, openings caused by double-teams on star Terrence Jones. His career night included an unlikely three-point bomb that led Jorts to hold three fingers up in the air and John Calipari to shake his head in disbelief.
Had one been guessing two months ago, the thought of Harrellson no longer being on the team would have seemed more likely than him being the key factor in a victory over an arch-rival.  After a solid performance in an exhibition game, Harrellson went on Twitter and complained that coach John Calipari did not give him credit for his game, instead focusing on Josh's mistakes in a post-game press conference.  Calipari responded to the criticism by publicly scolding Harrellson on Twitter and also instituting a series of early-morning workouts as punishment.  The coach required Harrellson to do six a.m. workouts every day and suggested that if Harrellson balked, his career with the Wildcats could be over.

What followed was a transformation of Harrellson's body and game so shocking that he hardly looks like the same person.  Whereas he was once a player that was big and bulky, his dramatic weight loss and newly-found muscles could potentially lead to an exercise tape called "Body by Jorts."  Whereas he was once a slow, lumbering big man best known for having a decent outside touch, now he is a figure that can be relied upon to control the glass and give UK a presence in the paint that seemed to be a lost cause going into the year.  For his part, Harrellson calls the Twitter fiasco, the "best thing that ever happened to me", as it changed his view of his role on the team from jokester who felt fortunate to be on the team, to a true contributor who can help create a victory.

Harrellson's contribution was by no means the only reason for Kentucky's victory.  In fact, the entire game showcased just how large a gap currently exists between the Cats and its arch rival .  Louisville looked tentative, slower and most significantly, substantially less-talented than their Kentucky opponents and at no point seemed likely to win the game.  Kentucky's Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones not only played better than Louisville, they looked to be on a different level than their Louisville counterparts.  Kentucky stopped Louisville's transition game by controlling tempo from the outset, thereby negating the Cards' best chance to pull off an upset and ensuring that the team with the best talent would win.  If Friday showed us anything, it is clear that team resides in Lexington.

All of which makes the performance by Harrellson that much more impressive.  Over the last two seasons, he has played on a team with eight players that either were, or are likely to be, first round NBA Draft picks.  He has consistently been overlooked on nearly every level, including being left off the team's pre-season poster given out to fans in order to make room for yet another highly touted Calipari draft class.  He was the classic afterthought, only a factor in this season because UK could not get Enes Kanter eligible or find another big man with more talent.  Yet that guy, the one that no one thought would ever make a difference, that guy had a career day against his team's biggest rival and made himself a name that will always be associated with a Card thrashing.

That is the stuff from which legends are made.  
Posted on: December 30, 2010 2:08 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2010 2:26 pm

In college basketball, there's nothing like UK-UL

Posted by Matt Jones

If your only exposure to college basketball is limited to tuning in around late February and sampling whatever dish ESPN is serving up to get you ready for the end of college basketball season, then this column is for you.  Contrary to what the good folks at the Worldwide Leader and the national columnists who only dip their toe into our fair sport around March Madness may want you to believe, the most intense rivalry in college basketball is not the one that takes place twice a year on Tobacco Road.  No, for sheer emotion, passion and viciousness, the true peak of college basketball rivalry takes place on the I-64 corridor every season in late December.  Kentucky vs. Louisville is the most heated rivalry in college basketball , and nothing else is close.

While I can already hear the outrage emitted from the Duke and UNC fanbases who believe all basketball worth seeing is played either within their 15-501 highway or at the very least, down the road in Greensboro, notice I said “most intense” and not “best”.  I have attended seven Duke-UNC games over the years and am a graduate of one of the institutions.   When it comes to sheer talent and relevance on a national scale, Duke-UNC has been the unparalleled king for the past 25 years.  But talent and television coverage does not intensity make.  Kentucky-Louisville is not the most intense rivalry in the land because the game usually involves the two best programs, but rather, like Alabama-Auburn, UK-UL is the most intense rivalry because it simply matters more to all involved.  A special concoction of factors combine to create an environment between the Wildcats and Cardinals that the overhyped Cameron Crazies and wine and cheese crowd of Chapel Hill could never hope to replicate:

HISTORY --- Unlike UNC and Duke, who are forced by conference affiliation to play each other twice every season, the vitriol created by UK-UL is actually a relatively recent creation.  Until 1983, the schools never had an annual battle, as UK believed in its own superiority to such a degree that it saw no need to downgrade itself to schedule a game with the program Coach Eddie Sutton later called “Little Brother.”  Even as Louisville rose in the 1970s under Denny Crum, culminating in a NCAA title in 1980, UK cruised along whistling obliviously as Cardinal fans demanded a matchup.  Attempts by the NCAA to pair the two teams always fell a bit short, most famously in 1975, when one last John Wooden run kept the two programs from meeting for a National Championship.  The more Cardinal fans howled, the more UK cackled that they would not stoop to UL’s level.

But then came 1983 and the battle known as “The Dream Game.”   The NCAA placed the two teams in the same Regional in Knoxville, Tennessee and fate finally put the programs on the same court.  A battle that led the state’s governor John Y Brown to wear a half-red and half-blue sports coat (a sell out move if there ever was one), saw Louisville win the initial battle between the two programs and be granted ammunition of supposed superiority that it could hold over UK fans in perpetuity.  That was unacceptable to the UK brass, and the rivalry was on, likely never again to be extinguished.   The same intense hatred and feeling of moral superiority that prevented the game from beginning has permeated its existence ever since.

FAN HATRED --- And with that historical backdrop, the hatred between UK and UL fans has yet to diminish over the last 27 years.  To each fan base, the other group represents all that is bad about college basketball, and in extension, the country as a whole.  Kentucky fans believe UL represents the big city, full of brash, obnoxious fans who would be better placed in Southern Indiana, rather than in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky.  While Louisville sees UK as a fan base full of country hicks, whose country mannerisms embarrass the UL faithful when they travel to other states and say they are from Kentucky.  Being a fan of UL or UK is not simply about representing a program, it’s about representing a way of life, and when you see the 18-22 year olds on the court playing a game, they are actually standing up for values far greater than they could ever know.

This is all of course nonsense.  Those of you from the other 49 unfortunate states would look at all of us in Kentucky and see little difference, but to those of us who call Kentucky home, these distinctions matter.  The hatred is most intense in the city of Louisville, which has become ground zero for UK-UL passion.  With estimates of the number of UK fans in the city ranging from 40-50 percent, all of us are forced to interact with members of the other tribe and on a Rivalry week like this one, it is all we can do to maintain our cool.  Louisville fans do not like their city infested with all these Blue low-class heathens, while Kentucky fans want their general superiority and overall larger fan base accepted in the Commonwealth’s largest city.  It isn’t so much about winning, because we all know our team and fans are better, but it is about not losing, so we don’t have to listen to that obnoxious co-worker, neighbor or radio host crowing about it for the next 365 days.

PITINO/CALIPARI --- While the fans have always had the passion necessary to make the rivalry intense, what has taken the UK-UL game to a new level these last two years was the introduction of two Northeastern Italians, with a dislike for each other that rivals that of any fan.  Rick Pitino was already the epitome of evil to the Big Blue Nation, after committing the mortal sin of leaving UK, bombing with the Boston Celtics and then having the audacity to return to the state and coach the Wildcats’ arch-rivals.  The Benedict Arnold quality is almost unmatched in modern sports.  Would Coach K join the Tarheels?  Joe Torre the Red Sox?  Bear Bryant take his hat to Auburn?  Its unthinkable, but Pitino went to Louisville, showcasing to UK fans that he was never really one of them anyway.

But even with Cat fans hating Pitino, the Cold War didn’t really begin until John Calipari found his way to Lexington.  The slick former Memphis Coach gave Card fans their perfect UK foil.  For a program that has a history of NCAA violations, hiring the modern Coach most associated with walking the NCAA tightrope was exactly what UL fans needed for ammunition.  The cheating school hires the cheating Coach, allowing the Card faithful to crow that while they do it the “right way”, there is a rogue problem in Lexington.

The best part is that these two coaches seem to be obsessed with each other as much as the fans.    John Calipari openly takes slight shots at Pitino, making comments on his weak non-conference scheduling and referring to the “school down the road.”  Pitino for his part can barely hide his contempt for Calipari, deflecting all questions about him in a “please don’t bother me with THAT guy” type of manner.  Each has given the other fan base something to focus upon, whether it is Calipari and his vacated Final Four trips or Pitino and his infamous night at Porcinis with Karen Sypher.  For every “Derrick Rose” chant, a “15 seconds” one can follow.  And while neither will come from the Coaches themselves, they both probably secretly love every one.

Thus with all of those factors in play, how can the games not be legendary ?  Over the years, stars have been born in the UK-UL game, whose names live forever in the state.  Every UK fan knows about Rex Chapman’s historic Freshman debut to the rivalry in 1986, Cedric Jenkins’s tip-in for the win in 1987 and Patrick Sparks doing his shuffle and drawing a foul to help pull it out in Freedom Hall in 2004.  And UL fans can point to the magic of the Dream Game, Samaki Walker’s Triple-Double or the three from deep that Edgar Sosa drained before the buzzer in 2008.  Legends are made in one afternoon and individuals who otherwise had forgettable careers, like Marvin Stone and Lukask Obrzut are known as Cat and Card killers forever.

The opening line for the game has Louisville favored by two.  And if one looks at the game, a case can be made for either team coming out on top.  But ultimately, the final score is only a small part of what will be the most intense game in college basketball.  In Kentucky, we have little to focus on but college athletics.  There are no Carolina Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Charlotte Bobcats or NASCAR headquarters to focus our energy.  Louisville is the largest metropolitan area in America without a pro sports franchise and the energy of the population is focused squarely on college kids playing basketball.  When UK-UL tipoff Friday at noon, the entire state will be holding its breath and focused in a way unrivaled anywhere except in Alabama the day of the Iron Bowl.  Duke and North Carolina are nice and their games are made-for-television theater.  But for unbridled passion and intensity, there is no place in college basketball that can rival gameday when Kentucky plays Louisville .

Photo: AP

Posted on: December 28, 2010 1:50 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2010 1:52 pm

Former UK Player Talks Frankly on Billy Gillispie

Posted By Matt Jones

Prior to joining the College Basketball Blog here on CBS, I was the founder of KentuckySportsRadio.com, which focused exclusively on all things involving Kentucky basketball. As a spinoff of that gig, I host a local television show in Lexington and Louisville on the topic of Kentucky basketball as I help the Big Blue Nation obsess on all things Wildcats. Yesterday on the show, former UK player Mark Krebs gave a candid interview on his experiences with former Kentucky and Texas A&M Coach Billy Gillispie , whom Krebs played under for two seasons in Lexington. During his time in Lexington, there were many rumors of poor player treatment by Gillispie and suggestions that during his tenure, players were forced to play with injuries and verbally abused on a daily basis.

Krebs addressed a number of those issues in the interview and told a story of a Coach at a top program slowly losing the respect of his players and ultimately, control of the program. His comments include a story of Gillispie kicking his star Jodie Meeks off of the team at halftime of a game and refusing to allow the Wildcats to warm-up before the team's embarassing loss to Gardner-Webb. It is a must-watch for anyone who wonders what happens when "Coaches Go Wild":

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 27, 2010 7:22 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2011 7:05 pm

The SEC is hurting my soul

Posted by Matt Jones

It has not been a stellar year for the SEC on the basketball court.  While their football brethren are basking in the glow of a potential fifth straight national champion from the conference, the basketball teams have taken a decidedly different direction in the start of their 2010-2011 campaigns.  In fact, to say that SEC basketball has performed “poorly” thus far this season is an understatement as large as saying that the NCAA is “inconsistent” in the way it hands out punishments for rules violations.  The SEC has been downright pathetic and an embarrassment to the good names of Wimp Sanderson, Sonny Smith, Hugh Durham, Dale Brown and even Don Devoe.  Take a look at a partial list of teams that have notched a victory over an SEC opponent thus far this season:

UNC Asheville
St. Peter
Nicholls State
Coastal Carolina
North Texas
Florida Atlantic
East Tennessee State

That is a list of teams so bad that ESPN wouldn’t even package them together, stick them on a random Caribbean island and try to sell them as a viable “holiday tournament.”  It is a group so poor that only one has even been invited to participate in "Bracket Buster" weekend.  Yet they all were invited into an SEC team's home arena and came away with a victory.  As bad as the losses have been however, the wins have not been much better.  As of now, the conference as a whole only has three wins against teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25, and the two biggest marquee victories (Tennessee’s upsets of Villanova and Pittsburgh) are muted a bit by later losses to Oakland and Charlotte.

The SEC East has been awful, with the Vols losing three of their last four, Florida falling at home to an Artis Gilmore-less Jacksonville squad and South Carolina taking a 16 point stoning at home to Furman that caused South Carolina fans to yearn for the return of Devan Downey.  But the SEC East has looked like the 1985 Big East in comparison to the SEC West, which may have the most miserable collection of BCS teams in a division in the history of major college basketball.  The best team in the division is likely Arkansas, whose most distinguishing quality is that they are the only team in the division not to have lost to a team outside the RPI Top 100.  While at the bottom, Auburn has celebrated the christening of its new arena by insulting the good name of Chris Porter and taking the early lead over Oregon State and Depaul for worst BCS program in the land.

How did it get this bad?  In theory, the SEC should have some real potential.  One could make the argument that it has its best assortment of coaches in the last 15 years, with three of the top 15 in the game (Calipari, Pearl and Donovan), four rising up and comers that were coveted by a number of programs (Anthony Grant, John Pelphrey, Darrin Horn and Andy Kennedy) and four solid X and O guys who have had sustained success in the past (Kevin Stallings, Mark Fox, Rick Stansbury and Trent Johnson).    Over the last few years, many of these programs have kept good Southern talent in-state and the rise in national exposure that has come with Florida’s national championships, Bruce Pearl’s emergence as a media darling and John Calipari’s explosion of talent at Kentucky would seem to have benefited the conference to such a degree that it should be contending for top spot in all of America.  Instead, the conference is at best eighth in the country and an argument can be made that if the NCAA Tournament were held today, only three teams (Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt) would be a lock to be a part of the festivities.

To be fair, it isn’t all bad.  Kentucky will be one of the ten best teams in the nation come NCAA Tournament time.  Vanderbilt and Georgia have played a bit above their preseason rankings and could make some noise in conference play.  And one has to assume that Tennessee and Florida will get out of their December funks to create a solid SEC East.  But with the Western Division giving the conference more dead weight than “Blades of Glory” in a Will Ferrell movie marathon, the prognosis for the SEC does not look bright.  We all know that with the exception of Kentucky and occasionally Vandy, none of these schools care one bit about basketball and would rather obsess over the inseam measurement of a Defensive Line prospect out of Alabama than celebrate the talent of Trey Thompkins or Chris Warren.  But for those of us who do care about basketball in the SEC (meaning Kentucky fans and random old men in stuffy gyms watching high school games throughout the South), couldn’t they fake it just a little bit better?

Photo: AP
Posted on: December 22, 2010 2:00 pm

Could Enes Kanter return to Kentucky next season?

Posted by Matt Norlander

Is it possible a probable top-five NBA pick would bypass playing pro for a chance to wear Kentucky threads?

According to Enes Kanter's father, yes.

Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy, who's had contact with Dr. Mehmet Kanter before, corresponded with him again recently. Dr. Kanter is making Internet headlines this afternoon because of these words:

“Enes would do anything to play and help UK, his teammates and fans,” Mehmet Kanter wrote. “In the last two years, one thing me and Enes never discussed was him being pro. He didn’t mention to me about NBA or draft and I guarantee you as a father – if that’s the NCAA's decision Enes will be a sophomore next year in UK.”
DeCourcy's piece emphasizes the point: the elder Kanter is speaking on behalf of his son and guaranteeing Enes Kanter will play for John Calipari next year if the NCAA rules him permanently ineligible for this season.

Easy to say now, when the money's not spread out on a table before him and aren't in the room, painting the picture of just how rich Kanter can be by June of 2011.

The basic rundown on Enes Kanter, if you need the catching up: He's a Turkish-born player who, in order to further his career/improve his chances at playing collegiately in the United States, played on a professional team, Fenerbahce Ulker, in his home country. But after UK recruited him and Kanter was admitted into the school, it was discovered he received too much money while playing overseas. That led to him being declared ineligible. The NCAA doesn't prohibit young men from playing on pro teams; the rub is all in the amount of money they receive. It was deemed Kanter was paid beyond normal living expenses.

Since then, it's been a lot of back and forth, and the general manager of Fenerbahce hasn't been so helpful in the process (he would benefit from Kanter going back to Turkey and playing there which, yeah, isn't happening). Kentucky shifted its attack with the NCAA three weeks ago, dropping its appeal of the decision and instead realigning and presenting an entirely new case on Kanter's eligibility.

That's where we stand now. Word could and should come soon on if Kanter can and will play for UK this season. This process has felt like it's been going on four times as long as it should have.

Beyond everything, this gives Kentucky fans more hope they'll get to see a player in their team's uniform ... at some point ... maybe. He's become a cult figure in the Bluegrass State because of this elongated drama.
Category: NCAAB
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