A Few Thoughts About UK Football

Even before yesterday’s once-in-a-quarter-century win over Tennessee, seen by what the UT radio team I was listening to described as a near-half capacity crowd at Commonwealth Stadium, Mitch Barnhadt claimed his mind was made up to bring Joker Phillips back for a third season as head coach at Kentucky. And I believe that do be the correct decision, despite all the stuff I’m about to write. While it’s impossible to describe Joker’s first two seasons as head coach as anything other than disappointing, firing him after two seasons sets a troublesome precedent and would likely do more harm than good to the program’s long-term chances of success.

Here’s why: Kentucky just isn’t a very attractive job. Yes, it’s D-I. Yes, it’s in the SEC. But, no, it does not give an emerging (or for that matter, established) head coaching talent a reasonable chance at success. To put it mildly, anyone who takes on the head football job at UK faces an increasingly steep uphill battle. Kentucky Athletics board member Ballard Cassady, through his op-ed piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader and his interview on Kentucky Sports Television, has done a masterful job of explaining why the University of Kentucky is at such a structural disadvantage in football when compared to the rest of the SEC. In summation it boils down to this: Because of the way the athletics department is structured at UK, obtaining public funding for the purpose of facility construction is virtually impossible. In addition, the vast majority of the private funding is directed to basketball. With literally no public funding and very little private funding, there’s just not much money left over for Kentucky to upgrade its football facilities. And facilities are integral to a coach’s ability to recruit (and subsequently succeed). In that regard Joker Phillips and the UK coaching staff are bringing knives to gunfights when it comes to recruiting top-flight talent to the program.

When you combine the facilities problem with the fact that Kentucky as a state produces minimal high school football talent (which it essentially splits with U of L), you begin to understand why there are many out there (myself included) who believe Kentucky reached its ceiling under Rich Brooks. Seven or eight wins per season on a consistent basis is likely as good as it’s going to get. If the stars and the moon and the remaining remnants of the universe were to somehow align – for instance, if you could place Kentucky’s 2007 team in the 2011 SEC – I think nine or ten wins and an East Division title is achievable. But that would require a once-in-a-generation recruiting class to come along at a time when Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are all by their standards down, South Carolina is strong but beatable, and two of our three games from the West are Mississippi State (UK’s permanent) and Ole Miss. Could Andre Woodson and Co. have rattled off nine or ten wins this season? It’s possible. They’d need to go 4-0 in their non-conference, take one of three from the murderer’s row of Florida-LSU-South Carolina, then beat Mississippi State and Ole Miss at home before needing to win two of three to close the year at Vandy, at Georgia, and Tennessee at home. Even with the best Kentucky team of my lifetime against a favorable SEC schedule, nine wins sounds tough and ten sounds unlikely.

But let’s bring it back to Joker. On top of it being the right thing to do (as laughable as even I think that sounds in the realm of college athletics), I think a third year for him is what’s best for the program. For one, I still think Joker could be the guy. While it hasn’t translated to on-field success, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that in three years he’s recruited as well as any head coach in school history. Guys who recruit well at Kentucky don’t exactly grow on trees. For two, firing a guy after two years sets a precedent that makes a bad job even worse from the perspective of outside candidates.

Ballard does an excellent job of explaining in his interview why hiring a big name coach is likely not in the cards for Kentucky. For prospective coaches, it’s less about the money and more about the opportunity for success. Throw in a two-and-done precedent with the other road blocks to victory the UK job creates and I believe you scare off not only the established but also the up-and-coming. I doubt Kentucky has the wherewithal to lure a big-name assistant like Gus Malzahn away from Auburn, but I do think it could potentially nab someone like Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze (who Ole Miss is reportedly interested in). But if someone like Freeze, a strong candidate with options, takes a look at UK, an imperfect job that is still an obvious step up, and sees a school that gives its coaches a two-year window for success, I don’t know how that doesn’t decrease his interest.

And while I’m rooting for Joker to succeed next season, an objective look at our schedule makes it hard to have a great deal of optimism. This was the season for Joker to make his mark. The entire offensive line was back, and the schedule was as favorable as it’s going to get in the SEC. If Joker’s measure of success (and requirement for a fourth season) is six wins and a bowl next year, I have a hard time seeing it happen.

We don’t yet know exactly what UK’s schedule will look like next year because of the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, but assuming SEC teams play an eight-game conference schedule and Missouri joins the East, UK’s schedule will look something like this.

They’ll open the season at Louisville (likely a loss), then follow that with a pair of home games against Kent State and Western Kentucky (two likely wins). But then it gets a little tricky and a lot tougher. Order unknown, Kentucky’s SEC schedule will include home games against Georgia (loss), South Carolina (loss) and Vandy (swing game). Road matchups at Florida (loss), Tennessee (swing game) and Mississippi State (swing game) will be sprinkled in, while UK will round out its SEC slate with new East division foe Missouri (likely loss) and one more SEC West team, most likely LSU or Arkansas. Which of the two latter two games will be a home contest is TBD. Kentucky also has one more non-conference game against Samford (WIN!) the weekend prior to the season finale.

That puts the number of probable wins (i.e., the games Kentucky will be favored in) at three. The season opener at Louisville is crucial. Drop that one and the battle goes from uphill to near-impossible. The other swing games are Mississippi State in Starkville, Vandy at home, and Tennessee in Knoxville, only one of which (Vandy) does Kentucky have much of a shot to be favored. If Kentucky can somehow beat U of L and go 4-0 in the non-conference then they’d need to come up with two more wins to become bowl eligible. Vandy at home is probably Kentucky’s most winnable of its remaining swing games. That puts us at five, meaning we’d need to win either at Mississippi State or at Tennessee to have a chance at a bowl. There’s always an outside chance we get Ole Miss as our second SEC West game, but since we’ve played them now two straight seasons you have to think it’s going to be someone other than the Rebels (read: Loss).

How confident do you feel with that schedule? My gun-to-the-head prediction for Kentucky’s win total next season: Four. I think we drop Louisville, get the other three outside of the SEC, then get one either against Vandy in Commonwealth or to end the year at Tennessee. I don’t see UK winning at Starkville or even at home to Missouri. The Tigers are currently bowl eligible at 7-5 with a win over Texas earlier in the year.

So what’s next for UK football? Although Joker’s back, at least two assistants are rumored to be gone. You have to believe offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is one of them, and that’s a shame. Sanders came to UK from Tennessee in 2006 as the quarterbacks coach and had an immediate impact on Andre Woodson and the UK offense. But UK’s offense was atrocious this year, and someone has to fall on the sword. Most of the buzz centers on receivers coach Tee Martin being promoted to fill Sanders’ spot, despite the fact that Kentucky’s receivers this year were horrible.

If there’s one reason to be optimistic it’s that Joker’s been in a nearly identical situation before. He, with Sanders’ help, turned a struggling UK offense into one of the best in country in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He said as much in a press conference in early October.

“I got this job because I took a struggling offense and fixed it – and won a lot of games after getting it fixed. I’m at that point now. I’ve got to get this struggling offense fixed. We’ve got to get this thing fixed – and fixed in a hurry.”

I’m rooting for Joker. I just don’t know if I’m betting on him.

Numbers Crunch

Saturday’s Georgia game brought most of it to a halt, but following Dec. 31st’s beatdown of Louisville there was a tiny contingent of the UK fanbase that was starting to verbalize their belief that the 2010-11 Kentucky squad a notch ahead of last year’s team.  The same team, mind you, that went 35-3, won the SEC Tournament and Regular Season, went to the Elite Eight, and produced five first-round NBA draft picks.

I’ll start by saying that I like this year’s team.  Like, a lot.  I’d even go as far to say that I actually enjoy watching them more than last year’s team, which probably sounds insane when you consider John Wall might’ve been the most exciting player in Kentucky history.  But I stand by it.  I love the perimeter offense of the 2010-11 Cats.  They remind me a bit of the Orlando Magic team that lost to the Lakers in the ’09 Finals (a comparison that, it’s worth nothing, would be damn near flawless had Kanter been able to suit up for us).  But better than last year’s team?  That’s a tough case to make.

For verification, I went to the stats.  Just FYI – if you’ve ever had the displeasure of talking sports with me, you know that I love stats.  I mean, like, fucking love them!  Save your hooey about heart and toughness and random intangible bullshit.  Does the guy score?  Does he rebound?  Then he can have the heart of the tin man and the toughness of Jeremy Davies in Saving Private Ryan, for all I care.

The comparison was pretty straightforward: UK’s played 16 games this season, so I compared this team’s current stats to those of the 2009-10 team through their first 16 games.  All stats were acquired via ukathletics.com, with the 2009-10 team’s stats coming off a set of game notes prior to the 17th game of the season.

Offense

PPG: 82.4 (09-10), 79.9 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Field Goal Percentage: .498 (09-10), .469 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Assists: 265 total or 16.6 per game (09-10), 221 total or 13.8 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Turnovers: 246 total or 15.4 per game (09-10), 179 total or 11.2 per game (10-11) Edge: 10-11

A/T Ratio: 1.1 (09-10), 1.2 (10-11) Edge: Wash

Offensive Rebounding:  240 total or 15 per game (09-10), 206 total or 12.9 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Three Point Shooting Percentage: .391 (09-10), .407 (10-11) Edge: 10-11

Free Throw Shooting Percentage: .686 (09-10), .692 (10-11) Edge: Wash

Defense

Opponent PPG: 64.5 (09-10), 63.1 (10-11) Edge: 10-11

Opponent Turnovers: 246 (09-10), 202 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Steals: 120 total or 7.5 per game (09-10), 91 total or 5.7 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Blocks: 117 total or 7.3 per game (09-10), 109 total or 6.8 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Rebounding Margin: 41.7 to 31.1 (09-10), 40.2 to 33.0 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Opponent Field Goal Percentage: .383 (09-10), .386 (10-11) Edge: Wash

At a glance, you’ll see that the 2009-10 team has the edge in most statistical categories.  Look a little closer and you’ll also see that those edges in just about all the categories are slight.  Throw in the fact that this year’s Kentucky team currently sports a SOS of 16, while the 2009-10 team’s was not very good (I realize that’s vague, so I’ll note here that I do not have their exact SOS at this point in the season because UK did not include it in their game notes  — which, by the way, is a strong indication that it was weak), and all of the sudden the conversation gets a little more interesting.  And in case you prefer the written word in paragraph form over straight numbers, here’s the way it looks:

Offensively, this year’s Kentucky team is about 2.5 points off the pace of last year’s.  In hindsight, the 2009-10 squad was really a Jodie Meeks-type of shooter away from being an offensive juggernaut – 82.4 points per game with no real outside shooting threat illustrates as well as any stat just how offensively talented they were.  But with Meeks or not, it’s safe to say they were doing alright — through 16 games, Wall, Cousins and Co. had already eclipsed the 90-point mark six times.   Just for the sake of comparison, this team’s done it twice.

But that’s not to say that the 2010-11 team has any issues scoring points.  Just under 80 per game for a team that includes three freshmen in its six-man rotation is nothing to shake your head at.   Really, the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s isn’t the number of points (as mentioned, it’s less than a trey per game), but rather the way they go about getting them.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone that has watched Kentucky since the start of Calipari’s tenure in Lexington, but this year’s team shoots the ball noticeably better from behind the arc.  A shade under 41 percent through 16 games – and an average of just over eight three-point field goals per game – is a far cry from last year’s club, which was actually shooting a respectable 38 percent at the same point in the season.  Worth mentioning – that number that would dip down to 33 percent by the time their season ended against West Virginia (also worth mentioning – UK shot 4-for-32 from three-point range in the season-ending contest alone…Jesus).

One stat that genuinely surprised me was the assist differential between last year and this year.  Thanks in no small part to Wall, who ended the year averaging around six dimes per contest (but was averaging more than seven at this point), the 09-10 team averaged about three more assists per game than this team has averaged thus far.  One need look no further than the play at point guard, as Brandon Knight, who is more of a pure-scorer than Wall was, dishes just three helpers per game.  I’d also be willing to entertain the logic that Knight doesn’t have the finshers around him that Wall had.  Josh Harrellson’s gone above and beyond anyone’s wildest expectations this year, but DeMarcus Cousins he is not.

But the 2010-11 Kentucky Wildcats do exceed the 2009-10 bunch in one very important category: turnovers.  Last year’s group was a turnover laden bunch, and it shows when you compare them to the team this year: 15.4 turnovers per game – that’s what Calipari’s first group averaged through its first 16 games.  Compare that with the 11.2 per game average that this team currently sports and it’s easy to see why, despite the anemic assist numbers, the 2010-11 club has a slightly better assist-to-turnover ratio (1.2 to 1.1) than the 2009-10 one.

And that’s pretty much where the statistical advantage ends for the 2010-11 club, at least offensively.  In terms of rebounding the ball the 2009-10 team has the clear edge.  Overall, they were pulling down nearly 42 rebounds per contest, with 15 of those coming on the offensive glass.  This year’s club averages 40 overall and 13 on offense.

On defense, this year’s club holds its own.  Fewer PPG allowed to go along with a (slightly) better opponent field goal percentage.  The 2009-10 team sweeps the steals, blocks, and rebounding margin, however.

And what should we take from this?  This year’s team is pretty good.  They don’t have the sexy early-season wins that last year’s club had (UConn, UNC), but aren’t far behind in terms of on-court efficiency.  Compound that with the fact that this year’s team SOS is more than a little better and, well, the argument for 2009-10 starts to take some hits.  I’m still not ready to give them this year’s team the edge, but the numbers show a much closer matchup than I would’ve expected.

No Bull

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Let’s get straight to the meat and potatoes of this shit.

Three Reasons Why Calipari Won’t Be Coaching in Chicago Next Season:

1) Frugality

Go to Wikipedia, type in the name “Jerry Reinsdorf,” and you will find that the third sentence of the owner’s entry reads, “He has been the head of the White Sox and Bulls for over 20 years, with a reputation for frugality.”

To even the most casual NBA fans (and/or recent readers of the compelling Sam Smith behind-the-scenes classic, The Jordan Rules), this comes as no surprise.  Despite the fact that the Bulls are, on average, the second-most profitable franchise in the NBA, Reinsdorf has always run his franchise like a cash cow.  With the exception of the tail end of Michael Jordan’s second tenure in Chicago (when he paid MJ roughly $30M/season, mostly because the G.O.A.T. paid for himself), Reinsdorf’s shown zero inclination to shell out big bucks for personnel.  The Bulls’ most-recent head coach, Vinny Del Negro, made about $2M/season, and the last semi-successful head guy before Del Negro, Scott Skiles, was paid roughly $4M/season.  According to reports, Calipari would need somewhere in the neighborhood of $8-10M per season to be lured away from Lexington.  Now, add that number to the buyout Reinsdorf would owe UK for snatching away Cal before his contract expired.  Then, add that number to the one that’ll be attached to LeBron James’ max contract.  In the end, no matter how sweet a package deal it may be, it’s hard to imagine a dollar figure like that coming out of Reinsdorf’s wallet.

2) Ego

Better yet, egoes. There’d be too many of them in the front office.  We’ll start with the guy at the top, Reinsdorf.

In addition to his reputation for being thrifty, Reinsdorf has an equally-deserved rep for ceding power to nobody.  With that said, Calipari’s reportedly stated that he wants a decision-making role in addition to the head coaching position at his next NBA stop.  Now, I’m not saying there’s a zero percent chance Cal’s coaching in the NBA next season, but I am saying that if there’s any truth to that demand, there’s a zero percent chance it happens in Chicago.

Same deal with John Paxson.  He’s the GM of the Bulls, and if we’ve learned anything about him over the past month, it’s that when this guy makes a decision, you best get the fuck out of his way.

And, finally, John Calipari.  Not unlike 1+1=2 and the inherent imperfection of man, John Calipari’s ego is a universal truth.  It is there and it is gargantuan; anyone who has heard him say just about anything could tell you as much.

Calipari’s had a tough time getting along with Mitch Barnhart. How’s he plan on seeing eye-to-eye with a tightwad like Reinsdorf and a bully like Paxson?

3) Common Sense

Seemingly lost in all this mess is the fact that Calipari (judging by, you know, his previous NBA coaching experience) would make a horrendous NBA coach.  His tenure with the New Jersey Nets was an abject failure, highlighted by a 72-112 career record and one quasi-racist rant directed at a NJ reporter.  The closest thing to a bright spot came in the form of the team’s 43-39 regular-season record in his second season at the helm, which ended with Kerry Kittles and Co. being swept in the first round of the playoffs.  The team picked up where they left off to start the next year, losing 17 of their first 20 to start the season before Calipari was mercifully given his walking papers.

Keep in mind, this is the same man demanding $8-10M/season to coach his next NBA team.

How many guys have to be given chances (or, in some cases, multiple chances) before GM’s learn that 99.99% of the the time, college coaches don’t translate to the NBA?  The list of successful college and NBA coaches in the last twenty years begins and ends with Larry Brown (and sort of Gregg Popovich), yet every year you hear the names of guys like Calipari, Pitino, Donovan, and Krzyzewski mentioned for horrible NBA gigs that a coaching fusion of Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach couldn’t turn around.  There’s an enormous difference between college and professional basketball — it’s called recruiting.  Cal is a great recruiter, maybe the best ever.  What he is not, however, is a great strategist.  This year’s Elite Eight match-up with West Virginia and the 2008 NCAA Title Game showcased that.  And while the college game allows him to go out and get the players he wants for the system he likes to run, the NBA is more of a play-the-hand-your-dealt kind of league.

In summation, the NBA doesn’t cater to Cal’s strengths.  He’s one of the best in the college game becaust he’s great at going out and getting the guys he wants.  Take away his ability to do that and I’m not sure he’s any better than the last handful of guys the Bulls have fired.

So, to review:

– The Bull’s won’t want to pay him.

– Calipari won’t want the front office headaches.

– Most importantly, he wouldn’t make a very good coach.

Now, can somebody please forward this to Reinsdorf and Paxson and tell them not to steal our fucking coach?

Talk Derby To Me, Baby!

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Here it is, the one time of the year when it’s actually encouraged to spend your Saturday night in Louisville, KY.  Celebrities in prodigious hats will sip mint juleps, inhale Woodford Reserve and talk the thoroughbred talk like they were born, raised and taught the ponies in the Commonwealth.  If you’ve ever wanted to pretend to be a southerner, here’s your chance.  It’s pretty much the only time it can be done without harsh social consequence.

But enough jibber-jabber, let’s get to the real reason everyone’s checking Lexpatriates on Derby Saturday: predictions.  My pick in this year’s run for the roses is Lookin At Lucky, the Kentucky-born progeny of Smart Strike, the half-brother of former Canadian Triple Crown winner Dance Smartly.  If my Bluegrass upbringing taught me anything, it’s that when picking Derby winners, 1) never bet against the distant horse-racing pedigree of former Canadian powerhouses and 2) always go with the favorite, no matter what post they draw; those guys win it pretty much every year.  I mean, they’re the favorites for a reason, you know?  Plus, Lucky’s got the rail.  My seventh-grade track and field experience taught me that spot actually has the shortest distance to run around the track.  Seriously.

Another reason for this post: it gives me an excuse to link to some of the finer works of Hunter S. Thompson, maybe the finest ambassador the city of Louisville’s ever known.

In honor of today’s shit show, we’ll kick it off with a Lexpatriates favorite:

“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,”by Hunter S. Thompson (from Scanlan’s Monthly), 1970.

“The Derby, the actual race, was scheduled for late afternoon, and as the magic hour approached I suggested to Steadman that we should probably spend some time in the infield, that boiling sea of people across the track from the clubhouse. He seemed a little nervous about it, but since none of the awful things I’d warned him about had happened so far–no race riots, firestorms or savage drunken attacks–he shrugged and said, “Right, let’s do it.”

To get there we had to pass through many gates, each one a step down in status, then through a tunnel under the track. Emerging from the tunnel was such a culture shock that it took us a while to adjust. “God almighty!” Steadman muttered. “This is a…Jesus!” He plunged ahead with his tiny camera, stepping over bodies, and I followed, trying to take notes.”

“He Was a Crook,” by Hunter S. Thompson (from Rolling Stone), 1994.

“Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”

“The 450-Square Mile Parking Lot,”by Hunter S. Thompson (from Pageant), 1965. (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4)

“If you count yourself in that legion of restless Americans who’ve been “thinking” for years about moving to California — and especially to the Los Angeles area in Southern California — you’d better get your plans into high gear pretty soon, or forget it.  Because the Golden State is getting crowded.  So many people have gone there seeking the “good life” that every year it gets harder and harder to find.”

Au Revoir, Mr. Patterson

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If there’s one thing that bothers me about UK’s recent return to the national spotlight, it’s that there’s an entire nation of Big Blue Bandwagoners out there that will never have the kind of appreciation for Patrick Patterson that he deserves.  All those front-runners walking the streets of Los Angeles and New York (and Louisville), sporting John Wall #11 and DeMarcus Cousins #15 jerseys and Calipari’s Cats t-shirts will never know that, if it weren’t for Patterson, the Wall-Cousins-Calipari season may have never happened.  It’s ironic, really: the best recruiting class in school history overshadowed, in his final season in Lexington, maybe the most important recruit in school history.

……….

Patterson’s commitment was a Godsend in its own right.  Looking back, it’s miraculous that we even had a chance:

1) It came down to us and Florida – a school that was coming off back-to-back National Titles and a coach that’d just rejected an offer from Kentucky to stay in Gainesville.

2) Ditto for Jai Lucas.  Patterson and Lucas were perceived as a package deal, and Lucas signed his LOI with Florida just a week prior.

3) The recruitment of Patterson (and Lucas) was largely the job of Tubby Smith.  Patterson’s parents loved Tubby.  Thanks to Huntington’s close proximity to Lexington, Tubby got an early jump on Patterson and even attended a handful of Patterson’s home games during his junior and senior years of high school.  Of course, Tubby Smith left Kentucky shortly after the end of the ’07 season and shortly before Patterson was set to make his decision.

4) Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie, a fiery Gary Sinise look-a-like from Texas who’d had zero contact with Patterson before his hire.

5) Depending on whether you want to base your decision on his time at Kentucky or at A&M/UTEP, Gillispie may not have been the recruiter we thought we were hiring.  Despite having a rep as a strategic, tenacious recruiter while in Texas, Gillispie did just about everything he could to set fire to that claim and take an uzi to its ashes while in Lexington.

Because of the rough way Gillispie went out at UK, it’s hard to remember how off-the-fucking-charts hot he was when he started.  If there’s anything worth salvaging from the Billy Gillispie era, it’s his first two months on the job and the way he secured Patterson’s commitment.

Against all odds, Clyde came in, picked up where Tubby Smith left off, and sold Patterson on being the centerpiece of a new era of Kentucky Basketball.  During his first visit with the Pattersons, Gillispie (while presumably hiding the fact that he was a Kiefer Sutherland-level alcoholic) famously showed the family a schedule that detailed how Patrick would be spending every minute of every day for the next four years if he came to Lexington.  This caliber of organizational skill made a distinct impression on the Patterson family, and their son committed to Gillispie and the ‘Cats a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good times ended for BCG at Kentucky.

And if Kentucky fans think Clyde’s two seasons at Kentucky were a disaster with Patterson, can you even imagine how bad they would’ve been without him?  Patterson was the only think keeping Clyde and Kentucky from achieving Matt Doherty At North Carolina-levels of disaster, and for that he should never have to pay for a drink in the Commonwealth again.

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Patterson was a fan favorite from the get-go.  On top of being the first McDonald’s All-American we’d signed in three years, he was a blue-collar power forward and legitimetely good kid.  An excellent rebounder with a way-underrated scoring prowess (probably because he played his senior season with O.J. Mayo), Patterson immediately became our go-to guy on offense and most reliable rebounder, as well as the de facto team leader and face of the program.  He averaged 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds on a team that went 18-13, and probably would’ve had even better numbers were it not for a stress fracture that handicapped him for much of the season and kept him out of the lineup for the final six games.  As if it were’t impressive enough that Patterson did all that as a freshman, he did it with 1) Jodie Meeks (the team’s best perimeter scoring threat) going down early in the year, 2) Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley (the team’s two main contributing seniors) being in Gillispie’s doghouse for the first half of the season, and 3) Derrick Jasper (the team’s expected starter at point guard) coming off knee surgery and never being anywhere near full-strength.  Translation: No Patterson, no nothing.  Without him, that team doesn’t get near .500.

A healthy Jodie Meeks (23.7/game) gave Patterson the perimeter threat he needed in his sophomore season, and he responded by averaging 17.9 points (on an insane 60.3% from the field), 9.3 rebounds, and just over two blocks per contest.  You’d think a one-two punch like Meeks and Patterson would’ve been enough for Kentucky to have a drastic improvement in the Win-Loss column, but you’d be comically wrong.  Kentucky lost 9 of its final 13 regular-season games to finish 22-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time 1991.

As bad as it was, it would’ve been worse without Patterson.  Despite Meeks’ coming-out season, Patterson was the heart and soul of that team.  He had 14 double-doubles on the season, played 35+ minutes in 18 of Kentucky’s 34 games, scored 25+ seven times, grabbed 12+ rebounds nine times, and did it all while playing out of position.  Because of Kentucky’s lack of size, Patterson was forced to start at center and defend the oppositon’s biggest players.  Another remarkable stat: he only fouled out of one game that season.  Again: without Patterson, that’s not even a .500 team.

From there, things got crazy.  Patterson and Meeks declared for the draft.  Gillispie was fired.  Calipari was hired.  Calipari signed one of the best recruiting classes in history.  Meeks decided to stay in the draft.  Patterson decided to come back.  Both said (almost verbatim) that there would’ve been zero chance of them returning had Gillispie been retained.  Regardless, the tyrannical failure was gone, the top recruiter in the country was in, and in a matter of weeks Kentucky went from an NIT team losing its only two respectable players to the preseason #1.

And there’s a decent chance none of it happens without Patterson.

Hear me out: he was the only thing keeping Kentucky respectable for the two years Gillispie was in Lexington.  Without him, Kentucky’s record dips below .500, the mass exodus that nearly happened at the end of the ’08 season either happens then or happens sooner, and Kentucky suddenly has one of the least-talented rosters in the country. Do you remember the kind of guys Gillispie was recruiting?  Konner Tucker, Dakotah Euton, Michael Avery, Vinny Zollo…can you imagine who he would’ve gone after had half the team bolted the way they planned after the ’08 (or ’07) season?  I’d rather not think about it.

Does Calipari take the job under those circumstances?  Maybe.  But keep in mind, Memphis threw a shit ton of money at him to stay put (and he wasn’t doing too shabby there), and there was another elite-level job opening he was considering (and, at one point, assumed to be taking) in Arizona before the Kentucky job opened up.  Maybe Calipari would’ve liked the challenge of rebuilding a completely deconstructed Roman Empire, or maybe he would’ve preferred to keep his Wall-Cousins-Xavier Henry-Nolan Dennis class intact at Memphis.  Or take it with him to Arizona.

Point being: I’d hate to find out.  Patterson kept Kentucky relevant (and even that might be a strong word) while Gillispie was at the helm.  If he never signs, Kentucky Basketball becomes the hoops equivalent of pre-Nick Saban Alabama Football.

……….

So while history will most likely remember John Calipari, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins as the architects of the new-and-improved Kentucky Basketball Program, those who really followed the ‘Cats should remember Patterson.  He averaged career lows in points and rebounds in his junior season, but he got a chance to show NBA scouts his outside shot and be a part of a team that went 35-3 and play in a Regional Final.  Despite that, Patterson’s legacy should be in his first two seasons in Lexington.  Maybe even more so than Jamal Mashburn, Patterson was the big fish in a small pond that was the catalyst for Kentucky’s long-term success.

One more time, just for good measure: Patrick Patterson, The Most-Important Kentucky Recruit Ever.

Lexpatcast – Episode Two

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In what could be described as either irony or just horrible time management, denimjersey and myself were concerned with filling 30 minutes and ended up plowing along well past the 60-minute mark.  That wasn’t the only disaster.  My phone dropped our call about ten minutes in and my audio-editing skills had to be put to use when I (unintentionally) kinda-sorta OK’d drinking and driving when talking about the Rod Strickland situation.  But aside from the shitty cell phone service and laissez-faire attitudes towards serious crime, I think we did okay.  Not unlike last time, we’re a bit long-winded.  Topics of discussion include:

– Mr. Jersey’s take on Calipari’s first season with Kentucky

– The Rod Strickland DUI

– Tiger at Augusta

– Ben Roethlisberger

– The O.J. Chase

– The urgent need for a Lexpatcast theme song (I’m looking at you, tokenwalkon)

It goes without saying, but all segues are seamless.

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 1)

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 2)

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 3)

Triumph of a Salesman

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John Calipari: The Salesman.  In essence, those four words are the reason that I’m still, no pun intended, not sold on the guy.  My argument is this: people like Calipari (i.e., guys who shape, craft, and code their every word to either overtly or covertly make a point, which almost always serves to improve your opinion of them) are the people I respect the least in my everyday life. You can’t trust a word they say, and there’s a sleaziness and a desperation to it that turns me off immediately.  No small part of this distrust stems from the last salesman we had as our head coach, Rick Pitino, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone how things turned out with him.

Calipari has both a personality and a history that supports this kind of behavior, and since he’s come to Kentucky I’ve constantly grappled with the idea of embracing and rooting for a guy that is so blatantly calculated.  I go back and forth.  Hell, the very first thing I wrote for this site was a fawning, overly-long catalog of all my favorite Calipari sales ploys.  Drake, LeBron, the Social Media Revolution, even the incessant It’s not about the money, it’s about Kentucky-line (which I ate up as much as anyone) that he dropped somewhere in the neighborhood of eleven-million times in his first week on the job.  All that stuff was a sale.  He used Drake to sell Kentucky to a certain crowd.  He used LeBron to sell it to a different crowd.  His fascination with Twitter gave him a platform to make his pitch to a viral audience on an as-often-as-he-wanted basis.  And his It’s not about the money… line was his initial (and genius) sell to the people he would have to continue selling himself to for as long as he stayed in Lexington.  Calipari realized something from the get-go that Billy Gillispie and Tubby Smith never did: Kentucky fans want a guy who holds this job in the same esteem that we hold it.  Almost as much as a winner, we want a guy who understands the privelage of being here.  Calipari came out of the gates singing the job’s praises (the anecdote about being in Rupp for the first time and knowing right then and there that this was where he wanted to coach some day, telling his Memphis team that Kentucky was the ‘Notre Dame’ of college basketball, his constant references to National Championship banners hanging above his head, etc.) and we couldn’t get enough of it.

Before that press conference, I wasn’t in favor of having him as our next head coach.  Afterward, he had me eating out of the palm of his hand.  “This guy gets it,” I said repeatedly to myself in my one-bedroom apartment.

It was exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it the most.

…..

For a salesman, what’s more important than knowing how to sell to your customers is knowing what to sell to them.  A guy selling you a car isn’t just selling you on four-wheel drive and gas-mileage, he’s building rapport, pinpointing doubt, and subsequently alleviating your concerns.  It’s a subtle art that is easy to spot yet hard to ignore.  I see Cal up there tugging on my heart strings with all his ‘Roman Empire’ talk, and I know exactly what he’s trying to accomplish, yet I can’t make myself turn away.  There’s a powerlessness that comes with hearing what you want to hear, even when you know the speaker knows exactly what they’re doing.

And as I already mentioned, Calipari came into Kentucky knowing what we needed to hear.  We’re a narcissistic fanbase; essentially, we’ve got a giant ego but low self-esteem.  We like to think of Kentucky as a premier program, but we’ve been known to set the bar a tad high and get a bit of an inferiority complex when we don’t measure up.  Before Calipari came here, we were playing second fiddle to Louisville in the state, not to mention being left out of the conversation entirely when it came to best programs in the nation.  Those were tough times for a fanbase as proud as us.  But Calipari’s big talk and recruiting prowess cured that instantly.  But just one year later, after an ugly loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight and five of our best players bolting for the NBA Draft, that pessimistic side of our personality started to rear its ugly head.

So what does Calipari do?  Again, he sells us exactly what we need: optimism.  Enter the newest Wildcats: Brandon Knight and Michael Gilchrist, the two best players in each of their respective classes.

All of the sudden, the mood of the fanbase does a complete 180.

Sure, we just lost the nucleus of the best Kentucky squad in over a decade.  So what?  Now we know we’ve got another, maybe better one coming in.  No more John Wall, the best college point guard prospect since Jason Kidd?  That’s alright, now we’ve got Brandon Knight ready to take his place.  How will we make up for all the scoring we lost to the NBA?  Michael Gilchrist, the best wing player to come out of high school since Kobe Bryant, is a pretty good start.

The best way to make someone forget about the past is to make them look forward to the future.

Again, exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it the most.

…..

Just so we’re clear, I’m not claiming to be the first person to say this.  Lots of people saw it for what it was.  However, I can assure you that none of them have a greater appreciation for it than me.

I could talk for days about Knight and Gilchrist.  I won’t (mostly in the interest of you, the readership – all eleven of you), but I will say that I’m (sort of) surprised people aren’t making a bigger deal out of this than they are.  Do these talking heads at ESPN and CBS not realize what they’re witnessing right now?  This is one of the great recruiting coops of our time.  He’s in the midst of putting together (indisputably) the best recruting class ever for 2011, putting together another blockbuster one for 2010, and doing it all after putting together (arguably) the best recruiting class ever in 2009.  I can guarantee you this, if Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams had done it, your ears would be bleeding as a result.  But Calipari isn’t Coach K or Roy, so when he signs guys like Wall and Cousins, they suddenly become guys that “could only play for someone like Calipari.”  I’m torn between laughing at and punching people who produce this sort of word-vomit.

You know who else recruited guys like Wall and Cousins, and now Knight and Gilchrist?  Every motherfucker in the country.  If Wall’d gone to Duke (which he almost did) been a one-and-done (which he would’ve been), and gotten a 3.4 GPA in the process (which he did at Kentucky), you’d be reading a thousand stories about how, despite being an extraterrestrial-type talent who knew his time at this level would be short, he treated the college game with the integrity it deserves.  But since he plays for Calipari at Kentucky, people are writing stories and posts like this one, in which they imply, with absolutely no basis, that Wall and Cousins are not finishing out their semesters.  (And this is another post for another day, but if they aren’t, so what?  Integrity in college sports went out the window when the NCAA did nothing to combat the NBA age-limit, and essentially opened the door for corruption and offered it a drink.)

But fuck those guys.  Calipari’s doing it his way and he’s doing it in a way that only he could conjure: build it up, tear it down, then rebuild it in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.  The best players from two separate recruiting classes on the same day…has anything close to that ever happened before?  And does anyone believe anything other than that it was completely of Calipari’s creation?

What I’m getting at with all this is, of the numerous Calipari sales since coming to Kentucky, the great Knight-Gilchrist heist of April 14th, 2010 may go down as his greatest yet.  Brandon Knight and Michael Gilchrist, the #1 rated player in the 2010 recruiting class and the #1 rated player in the 2011 class, both committing to Kentucky on the same day, just over sixty minutes apart.

Exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it the most.