Who could have ever imagined that a time normally reserved for the Kentucky Derby to make all the headlines in the Bluegrass that Kentucky basketball would have one of its biggest offseason news days in years?
Not only did UK’s annual series with Indiana and North Carolina apparently both get called off for next year, but Final Four most outstanding player Anthony Davis was added to the U.S. Olympic tryout roster. Plus, women’s coach Matthew Mitchell not only got the expected contract extension after what he’s done the last two years, but he’s now one of the highest paid women’s coaches in the country.
So what was the biggest story of the day? Here’s how I rate the four developments:
1. Davis joining the Olympic tryout roster.
To me, this is the biggest because it never happens. Davis could be on the national championship team as well as national player, freshman and defensive player of the year and then add an Olympic gold medal. Of course he’ll also be the No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft. That’s a season to remember for any player.
Davis let it be known when he announced he was leaving UK for the NBA along with four other starters off U¿K’s national title team that he had always dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal. Now he could very well get that chance because Team USA has a need for an inside player and Davis certainly has the shot-blocking ability to fulfill that need along with a youthful enthusiasm that could be attractive on a team filled with NBA stars.
As a high school senior Davis played for USA Basketball's Junior National Select Team that competed in the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit. Davis finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and two block shots to help the USA to a 92-80 win over the World Select Team.
And think what it could do for coach John Calipari’s recruiting if Davis adds that gold medal — and it is mentioned over and over that just a few months earlier he led Kentucky to a national championship. Calipari’s recruiting certainly has been spectacular in his three plus seasons at UK, but Davis winning a gold medal would only make it better.
2. Indiana dropping the Wildcats rather than agree to annual neutral site games.
The two schools had disagreed over where future games should be played. Indiana want the games to stay on campus like they were since 2006 and from 1976-85. Kentucky preferred to have the games at neutral sites and apparently was even okay with the game being held each year in Indianapolis as long as the tickets were evenly split. From 1991-2005, the UK-Indiana games rotated between Louisville’s Freedom Hall and the Hoosier/RCA Dome in Indianapolis with tickets evenly split.
Considering the tradition of both schools, both being ranked among the top five in early polls for next season and the friendship between Calipari and IU¿coach Tom Crean, the assumption was that this somehow would get worked out. Then Indiana announced Thursday the series was off — at least for next year.
Fans are the losers. Home season ticket holders miss a marquee game every other year that a home-and-home series provided. But the neutral site games would have let more fans — and fans without season tickets — get to see the games.
Obviously, both programs will survive and flourish. But with the Hoosiers back in the national scene, it’s a mistake by both schools to let this series end for any reasons.
3. Mitchell now has a contract through 2018-19 that guarantees him about $7.7 million in salary and endorsements — not counting incentives — to make him one of the nation’s highest paid coaches.
I expected a contract extension.¿I expected a raise. I just didn’t expect numbers like this even though Mitchell is 114-56 in five years at UK and has taken Kentucky to two NCAA¿Tournament regional finals in the last three years.
“We’ve only got two programs here that make money. So the rest of them are all working their way. I take as much pride in the ones that don’t make money as the ones that do,” Barnhart said. “I have two daughters. I want women to have opportunities to play at a high level. In order to do that, we were willing to invest in that.”
Seriously invest, especially considering UK¿has not had the funds to invest in a recruiting room that the football program insists it desperately needs to try and keep pace with others in the SEC. But Barnhart certainly sent a nation-wide message about his support for UK women’s basketball and just how much success he expects in the years ahead.
4. North Carolina and Kentucky not playing next year.
This has been expected with the Southeastern Conference adding Texas A&M and Missouri and UK¿facing at least two more conference games next year. Calipari also wanted to get it worked out where the Cats didn’t play Louisville and North Carolina on the road in the same season.
The two have played the last 12 years — and probably will again after a one-year break. North Carolina senior associate athletics director Larry Gallo said Thursday there is “no intent” to play next season.
At least, not in the immediate future even though Gallo would not say it was set in stone the two could not play next year — especially now that the Indiana-Kentucky game is off. But UK¿will play Duke in Atlanta, will meet Maryland in Brooklyn, will go to Louisville and will be on the road for the Big East/SEC Challenge. With the youngest team he’s had at Kentucky, that’s more than enough difficult games for Calipari next season before conference play starts.