Championship Caliber

| March 30, 2011
DeAndre Liggins, ,Jared Polson, Brandon Knight and Jon Hood celebrate UK victory.

DeAndre Liggins, ,Jared Polson, Brandon Knight and Jon Hood celebrate UK victory.

The sun really does shine bright on Kentucky – maybe the brightest.

Never in the history of our basketball-mad state have we enjoyed so much success on the national scene.

Two of our college teams have captured national championships. Coach Scott Davenport’s Bellarmine University Knights are the kings of Division II NCAA basketball. It is the first national championship of any kind for the Catholic school in the Highlands.

Pikeville College, coached by Kelly Wells and presided over by former Gov. Paul Patton, won the national NAIB title. That was the successor to the organization (NAIA) that spawned U of L’s national success.

What has our entire state in its current dither is the University of Kentucky’s success in knocking out two heavyweights, first top-ranked Ohio State and then nemesis North Carolina.

Now it’s on to the Final Four in Houston for UK. Awaiting the Cats is another power, Connecticut. Unsung Virginia Commonwealth, conqueror of Kansas, and Butler, which ousted Florida, are the other members of the Final Four.

And, yes, finally Wildcats coach John Calipari has answered this question once and forever: Yes, the man can coach. We knew that he could recruit and now he has a chance to prove to one and all that he can take a team to the national championship.

Only two coaches have taken three different teams to the Final Four – and they are both in Kentucky! Calipari scored with Massachusetts and Memphis and now Kentucky. Louisville’s Rick Pitino is the other top coach. Pitino took Providence and Louisville to Final Fours and won the national championship with UK,

Terrence Jones and Darius Miller cause Harrison Barnes to rush a shot. The UK defense had 10 steals and 5 blocks versus N C.

Terrence Jones and Darius Miller cause Harrison Barnes to rush a shot. The UK defense had 10 steals and 5 blocks.

Eighth UK title?

Now Calipari has the chance to coach the Wildcats to their eighth national crown. Only UCLA, with 11 titles, has more.
There’s more: The star of little Butler University in Indianapolis, Lexington’s Shelvin Mack, a product of Bryan Station High School, has led the Indianapolis school to the Final Four for the second year in a row. It took last season’s national champion, Duke, to end Butler’s dream – but the Bulldogs are back!

Neither UK (he played in the Wildcats’ backyard) nor U of L tried to recruit Mack. Billy Gillispie was then UK’s coach; Pitino coached U of L then. He was the best Bryan Station player since UK’s Jack “Goose” Givens.

Butler plays its home games at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the old gem of a gym where little but mighty Milan High won the state championship as retold in the movie “Hoosiers.”

Bellarmine’s NCAA Division II national championship couldn’t have happened to a more-deserving coach and young men who are in college to earn degrees so they can pursue occupations they choose.

Big for Morehead

Morehead’s Eagles unceremoniously ousted a U of L team that had a far better season than was expected from the very first NCAA game. It was the biggest victory in the history of the state university in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

Louisville’s women  and UK’s women also had great seasons.

Commonwealth women will be represented in the Final Four by Lexington Catholic’s Natalie Novosel. She scored 17 points in Notre Dame’s 73-59 upset of Tennessee Monday night.

And don’t forget the boys’ and girls’ Sweet Sixteens. The star of Rockcastle County’s state champions, Sara Hammond, is coming to play for U of L – and she is a good one – Miss Basketball.

Christian County won the boys’ state crown.

UK too popular?

But all isn’t well on the prep front. With the tremendous pulling power of UK and with every NCAA game on television for the first time, attendance at the boys’ Sweet Sixteen was down. Basketball pays the freight for nearly all of the other KHSAA sports.

It is a good year to have a UK connection. Dario Franchitti won the IndyCar season opener. What does the racecar driver have to do with UK? Well, silly, he’s married to the Cats’ No. 1 fan, Ashley Judd.

Host, Coleman honors

And here in Louisville, two former college baseball stars, one a UK graduate, Jim Host, were chosen to be honored by the Louisville Urban League. As chairman of the building of the Louisville Arena Authority, Host is being honored for ensuring the hiring of companies owned by woman and minorities. He was a UK pitcher.

The late Rev. Louis Coleman is the other baseball player; he was a product of Kentucky State. Buster, as he was known to friends, is being honored for his long association with the Justice Resource Center.

Host and Coleman will be honored at a dinner May 1 at the Louisville Marriott Downtown.

photos by Victoria Graff

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Category: Cover Stories

About the Author (Author Profile)

Earl Cox, Sports Columnist

Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.

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