New York Times reviews Combine: Too little Cal, too much idle chatter

In its Saturday edition, The New York Times reviewed the ESPNU telecast of Kentucky’s Combine Friday. The Times gave the lukewarm review and all but suggested the show be taken off, off Broadway and re-tooled.

“It was not terribly exciting for anyone but devoted Kentucky fans or college basketball junkies, who probably make up a lot of the ESPNU audience,” wrote Richard Sandomir, who covers sports media for The Times. “For the rest of us? Eh, not so much.”

Sandomir called UK’s Combine “a lesson in marketing” for both the basketball program and “the ESPN college sports machine.”

Sandomir lamented that ESPNU did not provide some play-by-play coverage of the five-on-five scrimmage, which ended during a commercial break.

“Does anyone know if the Blue team or the White team won?” he wrote. “How many points did the twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison score? How many assists did the freshman guard Tyler Ulis have?”

Sandomir said the telecast needed more commentary from UK Coach John Calipari. During one snippet, Calipari wore a live microphone. “But not for long and without a hint of revelation,” Sandomir wrote.

Sandomir suggested ESPN fly in Brent Musburger for play-by-play announcing and “then sent back to Gainesville for Saturday’s Louisiana State-Florida football game on the SEC Network?”

ESPNU: UK real good, but not without question marks

During Friday’s telecast of a NBA Combine, ESPNU announcers lauded Kentucky’s team but suggested questions can be raised going into the 2014-15 season.

Jay Bilas, who acted as the telecast host, noted Kentucky’s depth.

“There are 12 guys on this team that can play,” he said. I’m not sure anybody else in the country can say that.”

Later, Bilas added, you could cut the Kentucky team into two six-man halves. Each halve would be a top 25 team, he said.

Avery Johnson said freshman Tyler Ulis answered the question about opponents like Connecticut in the 2014 title game disrupting Kentucky will full-court pressure.

Another freshman, Devin Booker, could shoot. “You can never have enough three-point shooters,” Johnson said before adding, “Devin Booker is a knock-down shooter.”

But the analysts raised questions.

Greenberg said the much-discussed platoon system of five players rotating regularly with five other players could work. “I think they’re going to wear people down,” he said.

But, Greenberg added, would any five players accumulate enough playing time together to be steady, cohesive and productive in the final minutes of a close game?

Greenberg also said that for all of UK’s depth, the Cats lacked a “traditional small forward.”

Johnson suggested UK had too many big men. “I don’t think there’s going to be enough minutes for all their big guys,” he said.

Even Coach John Calipari raised a question by acknowledging a downside to a platoon system.

What if one of two players separated themselves as elite players among very good players, he asked.

“They deserve more minutes,” he said. “. . . This isn’t Communism.”


Cal: “I proudly wear the black hat’

During an interview on ESPNU’s telecast of Kentucky’s practice/Combine Friday, a defiant John Calipari noted how the two-hour telecast flew in the face of convention.

He playfully suggested that the NCAA would probably outlaw such a NBA Combine after seeing it used by Kentucky. Calipari said an earlier Combine staged in the 2011 post-season led to a NCAA ban.

“I proudly wear the black hat,” the UK coach said.

Of course, the NCAA ordered Calipari’s teams in 1996 and 2008 to vacate Final Four appearances because of improper gifts from an agent to a player and a fraudulent entrance exam score, respectively.

Calipari said he staged Friday’s NBA Combine for two reasons:

— NBA personnel would swarm anyway to watch Kentucky’s loaded roster (nine McDonald’s All-Americans, plus Willie Cauley-Stein) anyway. “Now, we can control it,” he said by limiting the NBA people to a Combine Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Calipari has said he will ban NBA people from practice for an indefinite period after the Combine.

— Re-assure the UK players that their individual goals to make the NBA will be honored although playing time could be limited this coming season. “They have to know I have their backs,” Calipari said. “You can play 20 minutes (a game) and achieve dreams.”

The ESPNU announcers all but scoffed at anyone who would question the propriety of staging a Combine. Host Jay Bilas dismissed the “third-grade mentality” that would say, “This is not fair.”

Bilas said, “If these were regular students, you know what we’d call it: a job fair.”

Former Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said a metaphorical level playing field was impossible to achieve.

“Every school has advantages,” he said. “. . . It is what it is. There’s not a level playing field.”

Noting how the Combine could help sell Kentucky to future prospects, Avery Johnson said the idea and telecast would “force all the other Division I programs” to consider staging a similar practice for NBA people.

ESPNU to UK: ‘How awesome are you?’ Apparent answer: Very

Kentucky staged its NBA “Combine” on Friday. ESPNU announced that 90 NBA scouts and front-office personnel sat in three rows of seats at the Joe Craft Center. They watched UK’s nine McDonald’s All-Americans go through drills and 3-0n-3 and 5-on-5 pseudo games.

For the viewer, it appeared to be a special edition of ESPN’s College GameDay with UK players rather than screaming, sign-waving fans in the background.

For two hours, panelists Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Avery Johnson and guest analyst Tony Delk saluted UK’s talent, coaching, program, tradition and NBA Draft potential.

While introducing the upcoming two-hour telecast of UK’s practice/Combine, an ESPNU studio host got the gushing started by saying, “How awesome are you? They’re televising your practice.”

In this case, “They” were “We:” ESPNU.

Davis, Miller, Russ Smith speak about NBA exhibition in Louisville

A homecoming. A NBA debut. Another step on what’s believed to a path to professional basketball stardom.

An exhibition game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Miami Heat Saturday night contains all those elements. Thanks goes to the Pelicans, who have two former University of Kentucky standouts (Anthony Davis and Darius Miller), plus former University of Louisville standout Russ Smith.

Davis, who led UK to the 2012 national championship, was in a playful mood in meeting with reporters after the Pelicans shootaround Saturday morning.

Looking around the Yum Center, he quipped, “I’d rather be in Rupp.”

Davis and Miller had dinner with UK Coach John Calipari Friday night. When asked if Calipari wanted Davis to pick up the check, Davis smiled and said, “No. Not with contract he just signed.”The exhibition game’s featured attraction figures to be Smith, who led Louisville to the 2013 national championship and, of course, played his home games on the Yum Center court.

Smith acknowledged his status as a rookie gave the game a different perspective. The playing time he expected:  “Anything from 15 minutes to a DNP.”

Smith sounded more sure of the warm welcome Davis and Miller would receive Saturday night even though they played for U of L’s arch rival.

“Oh, they’re going to get love, man,” Smith said. “Definitely, Big Blue is going to be in here, for sure.”

Miller, a native of Maysville, said he had high hopes for Kentucky in the upcoming 2014-15 season.

“I think they definitely have a shot at a championship . . . ,” he said. “I think they’ll be really good . . . a lot of talent. They have guys coming back . . . who know what it takes.”

ESPN to televise UK’s practice Oct. 10

Kentucky and ESPN announced this morning that ESPN will televise UK’s Oct. 10 practice, which will be from 3 to 5 p.m. EDT.

Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Avery Johnson will call the action for ESPNU. Myron Medcalf will handle sideline reports. Former UK All-American Tony Delk will serve as a guest analyst.

It marks the first time since the 2011-12 season UK has had a practice televised live on television, UK said.

Cal ‘stirred’ by possibilities, but he asks fans to be patient

Kentucky Coach John Calipari spoke excitedly about the possibilities for his team this coming season. But in speaking at the annual UK Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon in Louisville, he asked fans to temper their enthusiasm.

“Please be patient . . . ,” he said. “I’ve never done this before. I’m doing things I’ve never done before.”

Calipari spoke of continuing the five-man platoon system he tried in UK’s exhibition games in the Bahamas. He made no promises of continue using platoons in the season, although he noted how adjustments must be made because of varying game conditions.

Calipari said he had 12 players who deserved playing time. That might mean fewer minutes and, thus, less glittering statistics. To help compensate, Calipari said he would use analytics to put the less-glittering statistics in perspective.

UK’s wealth of talent might mean even faster play and more pressing, Calipari said. It might even mean playing zone defense in which big men are instructed to “just stand there,” he said.

Calipari made no secret of his excitement at the possibilities.

“This has got me stirred,” he said. “It’s stirred my thinking.”

As in previous seasons, Calipari said he would use early-season games to help decide how best to maximize the possibilities.

“What we do early may be at the expense of losing games . . . ,” he said. “You may say you’ll be fine with that. You will not.”

Cal, UK, take commercial break at Madness campout

Kentucky Coach John Calipari interrupted the  camp-out for Big Blue Madness tickets Wednesday for a commercial announcement.

In an appearance that lasted two minutes and 26 seconds, Calipari lauded Tempur-Pedic mattresses. The Lexington-based company provided beds for the Wildcat Coal Lodge.

“Tempur-Pedic has been good to us,” Calipari said.

The coach’s cameo appearance was part of a promotion that saw Tempur-Pedic give a mattress to campers Morgan Todd and Kaitlyn Tompkins. Tompkins, a sophomore from Richmond majoring in chemical engineering, had been sharing a tent outside Memorial Coliseum with Todd and their boyfriends.

“We’re going to give the boyfriends the air mattresses,” Tompkins said, “and we’ll sleep on the bed.”

When Tempur-Pedic officials moved the mattress to the tent, Todd could be heard saying, “I’ll be able to wake up tomorrow a little more refreshed.”

Rick Maynard, a senior manager in Tempur-Pedic’s public relations department, said he chose Todd and Tompkins to receive the mattress because he was looking for “the most destitute sleeping arrangements.”

Todd, Tompkins, their boyfriends and one other person were “fighting over” two air mattresses, Maynard said.

Calipari ended his appearance by noting he had spent more than a week away from Lexington on recruiting trips and wanted to meet with UK players. He said he would return to the campers later to sign autographs.

“Have a safe time,” he said, “and have fun.”

Mother, 75, daughter, 51, already waiting for Madness tickets

At 75, Bettie Adams seems old enough to know better. Old enough not to be sitting in a lawn chair across The Avenue of Champions from Memorial Coliseum all night Monday and all day Tuesday.

She and about 100 other hearty Kentucky fans were in place Tuesday and ready to stay there overnight in order to get into position to charge across the street at about 5 a.m.

This seemingly puts the madness in Big Blue Madness. Tents can be pitched Wednesday morning for the distribution of free tickets on Saturday morning.

One question: Why?

“Basketball,” Adams said. “I just love it.”

Adams sat by a card table. Her daughter, Debbie Florence, sat with her. Two fresh decks of cards set on the table waiting to be shuffled.

Florence, 51, rested a hand on a cane. She said a car wreck about seven years ago left her with a rebuilt hip, a spinal stimulator and a dead bone in her right ankle. Doctors removed her spleen.

Adams and Florence — both live in Lexington — answered quickly when asked why they left the comforts of home.

“Oh, the atmosphere,” Florence said.

“Excitement,” Adams added.

The charge across The Avenue of Champions Wednesday morning seemed too big a task for Adams and Florence. Not to worry.  Florence’s youngest brother, Mark Wilson, will do the charging. Once he pitches the tent, Adams and Florence will walk across the street.

Yahoo Sports: Cal to hold NBA Combine at UK (impress future recruits?)

A report by Yahoo Sports Tuesday suggested how Kentucky Coach John Calipari can capitalize on his program’s wealth of talent this coming season and help lure future prospects.

Calipari is finalizing plans for a two-day scouting combine for NBA personnel to evaluate UK players, Yahoo Sports said, citing NBA sources.

Calipari has invited officials of the 30 NBA teams to send personnel to UK on Oct. 11-12 to watch his players do drills  make from run full-court five-on-five and NBA-styldesigned to help NBA executives appraise players, Yahoo said.

The would be a week before Big Blue Madness weekend (17-18), when several top high school recruits are expected to be visiting the UK campus. The timing would enable Calipari to “frame his program as college basketball’s best NBA feeder system,” Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote.

“We’re just there as B-roll for his recruiting videos,” a NBA executive told Yahoo.

UK spokesman John Hayden said the school could neither confirm nor deny the Yahoo report. Calipari was unavailable for comment, Hayden said.

After the combine, Calipari plans to shut out NBA executives and scouts from his practices for several weeks – perhaps even months – into the season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Calipari hoped to lessen what he calls “clutter” created by a steady flow of NBA scouts in practice.