Kentucky coach John Calipari caught a lot of flak nationally for saying UK was a “non-traditional” program and couldn’t lock itself into long-term series after Indiana and Kentucky could not agree on continuing their annual series and the UK-North Carolina series was stopped for at least one year.
But New York Daily News college basketball writer Dick “Hoops”¿Weiss says Kentucky has never had a “traditional” basketball program.
He cited former coach Adolph Rupp’s involvement with the Olympics and progressive thinking to run a fast break and do other things. He noted that former coach Joe Hall built Wildcat Lodge, a luxurious spot for players to live on campus, took players across the state to play preseason intrasquad scrimmages and started Midnight Madness.
Weiss said former coach Rick Pitino went to more neutral-site games and even hired Bernadette Locke-Mattox to be on his staff.
“He feels he runs a non-traditional program at Kentucky, but that’s what Kentucky basketball has always been. It’s why Kentucky is what it is. It sets standards,” Weiss said. “John wants to play games that will have his team ready to respond in Final Four settings and not be inexperienced playing in domes like this team was two years ago in Houston.
“I don’t disagree with his reasoning for not playing home and home with Indiana. Kentucky offered to play two years at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis that could accommodate an extra 15,000 to 20,000 fans. I frankly do not have a problem with that. Obviously, (Indiana coach) Tommy (Crean) wants home-and-home. But you never know who will be better off.
“UK is going to be a totally different team next year. They won’t have three guys back who have played in the Final Four. John has his reasons for what he’s doing and I understand them.”
Noel investigation: Weiss said Calipari never mentioned signee Nerlens Noel’s status with him Tuesday and “was in such a good mood that I really don’t think he even knew it was coming.” However, the New York Times had a story reporting that NCAA investigators are checking Noel’s background.
“I don’t know if it is just routine checking or what. It’s a little surprising the same paper didn’t write anything about the North Carolina (athletics academic fraud in a class basketball and football players took),” Weiss said. “I have trouble believing some of the things being checked.”
The Times reported that NCAA representatives visited Everett (Mass.) High School, where Noel spent two years, and asked about Noel’s relationship with Errol Randolph, a former substitute teacher at Everrett who might have connections to basketball agent Andy Miller. The NCAA also had questions about how Noel paid for unofficial visits to Kentucky and Louisville.
It was no surprise to Weiss that Calipari and UK director of compliance Sandy Bell have had no comment on the story.
“What can they say? I just have a hard time believing a kid is that worried about an agent when he’s a freshman or sophomore. I just don’t see this turning into a problem for Kentucky,” Weiss said.
Knowing Calipari: Weiss wishes more Kentucky fans, and media members, could spend one-on-one time with Calipari as he has been able to often.
“John was great here in New York at this dinner. He gets New York. He gets the old people who have given so much. He does these things pretty good, just like he does things in Kentucky,” Weiss said. “I have a good relationship with him, a lot like I do with (Louisville coach) Rick (Pitino), even though UK fans might not want to hear that. John is so much better one-on-one than in a crowded interview or setting.
“Kentucky is one of the few places where you have so many people who have made their lives’ work covering the Cats. John knows that more than he lets on, because he knows how important basketball is to everyone in that state.”