During his collegiate head coaching career, former Kentucky standout John Pelphrey has never beaten Kentucky. He didn’t play the Wildcats when he was coach at South Alabama, and he has been unable to beat UK during his three previous seasons at Arkansas.
He’ll get another chance to beat the Wildcats when Arkansas hosts No. 22 Kentucky tonight.
“Obviously we want to win them all. Every time we get ready two or three days in advance that is the goal. It will be a big challenge on Wednesday,” Pelphrey said. “Certainly a lot of people out there want to win games like I do, and a lot want to beat Kentucky. Not everybody gets a chance to do that.
“They are outstanding. Their team is dynamic with the talent they have in terms of scoring in transition, at the rim, from the 3-point line. Just playing very well.”
Arkansas has not played “very well” in most of the Southeastern Conference season and is only 5-7 in league play and 16-10 overall. Considering Pelphrey was only 51-46 in his first three seasons at Arkansas, there has been speculation about his job status for next season.
“We are not worried about that. If happens, happens. We are just worried about winning and this team,” said Arkansas forward Delvon Johnson, who is averaging 10 points and a team-best 7.6 rebounds per game. “Coach is a great guy. He is one of the best coaches I have ever had. He is a player’s coach. He wants to be out there with us. He brings intensity every day. We need to play like he coaches and we will be fine.
“He is real cool. Off the court you can talk to him or go to his office. I have never had a time when I couldn’t joke around or talk to him about basketball. He is a good guy.”
Pelphrey was a fan favorite at Kentucky. He is from Paintsville and was one of “The Unforgettables” under coach Rick Pitino who has a retired jersey hanging in Rupp Arena.
“I have never seen video of him playing. Around his house he has a couple of pictures, including one of Shaquille O’Neal blocking his shot. I talk about that,” Johnson laughed and said. “But I have not seen any (video) clips of him playing. Maybe he won’t show us because he knows we will make fun of him. We just make fun of the pictures around his house.
“It would just be a laughing session if he did show us clips of his play. He gets out there sometimes a little bit and tries to dribble and shoot around with us, and we laugh about that.”
Johnson, though, does have a guess about what kind of player Pelphrey, who scored 1,257 points in 114 games at Kentucky, must have been.
“I am guessing he was a very intense, hard player because that is the way he coaches. I think that’s the way he wants us to play,” Johnson said. “We saw his jersey (hanging) when we played them last year. We walked into the gym and saw a retired jersey that said Pelphrey on the back, so we knew it was coach Pelphrey’s jersey. He didn’t tell us. He talks a little bit about his Kentucky days, but not much.”
Pelphrey doesn’t mind talking about the Kentucky team this year.
“One of the better defensive teams in our league, one of better rebounding teams in our league, the best 3-point shooting team in our league. Very well coached. Explosive talent,” Pelphrey said about Kentucky.
The Arkansas coach says it’s not hard to see why Kentucky is giving up just 63.8 points per game. “Very hard playing bunch of guys. They play together. They obviously have size and length. Just an outstanding defensive team,” he said.
He also thinks the freshman trio of Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb has been exceptional for UK this season. They are averaging a combined 49.1 points, 15.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game.
“They have been doing great. Obviously, any time a freshman comes into college basketball and has a chance to play and compete it is pretty special. Look at what they have done, and not only have they competed in college basketball, but they have gone to Kentucky, a place that has won more games than anybody, and they have been outstanding. They more than lived up to the billing,” Pelphrey said.