IRA COMBS: Gators Only Thing Between UK and 31-0
By Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
Brace yourself, folks. The end of the 2014-15 regular season of college basketball is clearly in sight, and the drama and suspense are gaining momentum every day the sun comes up across the Commonwealth.
This Saturday's prize is definitely not the final prize of the season but it will be a very special achievement that should be celebrated to a degree building toward the Grand Prize, the first Monday in April. It all should take place this Saturday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. in Rupp Arena when Cal's Boys and Big Blue Nation should be able to celebrate a perfect 31-0 regular season if the Cats take care of business on Senior Day against Billy Donovan's Florida Gators (2 p.m. ET on CBS).
Actually, I could feel the drama and suspense starting to percolate in the atmosphere of Rupp Arena about two weeks ago and that tingly feeling you get up and down your spine when you know your witnessing something special starting to gain momentum each game. If this weekend plays out like the first 30 games, the only drawback is that the uniqueness of a perfect season will steal all the thunder away from the usual Senior Day ceremonies. But that isn't too bad especially this year. Regardless of how UK handles Senior Day festivities, you can bet Coach Cal will take the Rupp Arena microphone after the game and give one of his patented speeches about how the season has went so far but the big prize still awaits up I-65 in Indianapolis at the Final Four.
Former Commonwealth Legends Would Have Enjoyed Following This Team
No question UK basketball has had many special teams through its storied history besides the eight NCAA championship teams. But, as I have sat at courtside in Rupp Arena the last few games, I couldn't help but think how special it would have been if some of the iconic UK basketball personalities who have passed on would have enjoyed watching this team play.
I'm a huge Tom Leach fan and I think he is closely approaching legendary status to be included in the UK history books but just think how special it would have been if Cawood Ledford could have been at courtside calling all the action over the UK radio network.
Also, what if former Kentucky Gov. and MLB commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler could have witnessed this season and even better led us all in the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" this Saturday. Many Kentucky governors over the decades have attended games at Memorial Coliseum and Rupp Arena but no one in the highest ranking political position of the Commonwealth loved and cherished the Wildcats more than "Happy." Yes, John Y. Brown is a big fan of the Wildcats but remember it was under John Y's administration that the UK-U of L series was forced into action which has turned out just fine but many UK old-timers will never forgive or forget how it all came about.
But the icing on the cake would have been if my buddy "Mr. Wildcat" Bill Keightley, the iconic equipment manager, could have been at courtside both at practice and games to assist Coach Cal on how to really show these diaper dandies how to be treated with Kentucky hospitality. Absolutely no one cared more or defended Kentucky basketball more than Bill Keightley. If the public and in particular Big Blue Nation knew how many players over the years "Mr. Wildcat" saved from leaving the team when things weren't going well with the coach or his role on the team, they would be shocked. For every player an assistant kept from leaving the team, Keightley talked twice as many from leaving. He was a special man and would have enjoyed this special UK team as much or more than anyone, especially the Louisville game back on Dec. 27th even though he softened in his later years, forgiving Coach Pitino for coming back to U of L.
Sports Celebrities Spotted At Rupp Arena
The end zone seats on the floor in front of the Eruption Zone and sideline seats opposite the team benches on the floor at Rupp Arena are generally referred to as millionaire row because they generally go to UK's most deep-pocketed donors. However, lately the end zone seats on the floor next to the visiting team bench normally taken by various national media outlets has been a Who's Who of sports personalities associated with basketball of course. This year there has not been a game at Rupp Arena without at least five or six NBA scouts in attendance and several Saturday games have brought 20 to 25 to town.
Two weeks ago, Oscar Robertson sat two seats down from me and just last Saturday I had the privilege of sitting directly beside Dick "Hoops" Weiss of New York who is one of the most respected college basketball scribes in the USA. And just on the other side of ''Hoops" was none other than Phil Jackson, the former NBA coach who led Michael Jordan and his Bulls to several NBA titles. Jackson is now the president of the New York Knicks and, in a very short exchange of words at halftime, told me they were looking at Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein since both would more than likely be lottery picks and the Knicks would probably be part of the seven-team draft lottery.
But the real treat for me was having a game-long conversation with "Hoops." He is very knowledgeable and respectful of UK basketball and had a very pleasant way of conversing with an ole country boy from the mountains.
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK sports or KHSAA basketball & football. You can now follow me on Twitter at @combsbrothers5.