New Year's Nuggets

In the midst of a bit of a column-writing break until later in the week, I wanted to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year, and offer a few observations from the week . . .

  • Only at the University of Kentucky could the basketball team come off a devastating loss to a little-known opponent, be playing in a football game the same day (where blue packed an NFL stadium three hours away) and still draw better than 19,000 to a basketball game against an opponent nobody knew anything about.
  • I was on the verge of beginning to speculate publicly about whether UK’s Derrick Jasper was being rushed back too soon. Microfracture surgery almost always takes a full year of recovery, and one of the most important aspects of recovery is allowing the knee to heal back fully. It just seemed a waste to take that risk with Jasper on a season that, even if it improves, isn’t likely to go down in the books as a great one for UK. But in Saturday’s win over Florida International, Jasper was not moving tentatively but very well. He said afterward that he felt good on the knee, and his biggest problem is getting used to the brace. We’ll see. He said a shot that they gave him two weeks ago helped with the pain and helped get him ready to play. I still have my questions about the move, still think he’d have been more valuable as a redshirt. He’s the type of guy every championship team needs, and if he stays around long enough, maybe he’d have a chance to be a part of one. Still, he makes more of a difference on this UK team that I could have imagined.
  • I had little doubt that the University of Louisville’s David Padgett would rush back, because I know his threshhold for pain. I predicted on Lachlan McLean’s show on WHAS radio a few weeks ago that he’d be back by late January, and he has even beaten that. He has played with much more, by his own admission, than he has know with his healing fractured kneecap. Again, you hope he isn’t rushing too much, because he’s the difference between being an elite team and just a potentially very good one for U of L.
  • The UK-U of L game is going to be a battle. U of L should be able to wear down the Cats by going inside, but the Cardinals haven’t yet shown the ability to do that to an opponent, and guard play for U of L is going to have to be a concern.
  • The UK lineup of Jasper, Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford was plus-27 in about 15 minutes or so of playing time against Florida International. In its first three significant spurts of playing time, it boosted the lead by seven, seven and eight points to put that game away early. The question facing UK coach Billy Gillispie, now that all of that group is available, is how do you keep it in the court, and who fills the rotations? To win, you’d probably slow it down, maybe even employ some zone and keep them out there for longer stretches. But that’s not Gillispie’s style. I’d say he’s hoping that guys like Ramon Harris and others have benefitted from their early playing time enough to allow UK to pressure for 40 minutes.
  • Congrats to UK’s football team for a well-deserved second straight bowl victory against a Florida State team that, 4 hours of ESPN spin not withstanding, I still say didn’t deserve to be there. This wasn’t an issue of what the Seminoles could do on the field. It’s an issue of what so many of their absent teammates did in the classroom.
  • L.A. Times columnist (and Louisville native) Bill Plaschke is one of the best sports columnists in the country today, and has an interesting piece on how Illinois’ offensive native American mascot Chief Illiniwek hasn’t gone away (registration required), despite an NCAA ruling that he do so. He reports that the real Illini tribe is rooting for USC in today’s Rose Bowl. All of that is fine. But USC used basically a professional player, Reggie Bush, to win big for two seasons, and has never paid for it. Not a bit. I know an investigation is ongoing, but that USC appears to be getting off for something like this is of much greater concern to many in college football than any kind of mascot controversy, distasteful though Illinois’ refusal to can the Chief is.
  • Golf anyone? I know Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington are skipping the season-opening Mercedes Chamionships in Kapalua, Hawaii, but I still think, with the Ryder Cup coming here this year, that I should be there to cover it. Editors? Anyone?
  • With all the weekday football and holidays, is anyone else totally screwed up on what day of the week it is?
  • Expect U of L’s women’s basketball team to re-enter the top 25 soon. It should’ve been in there a couple of weeks ago.
  • Want some great sports reading, and an insight into the way Patriots coach Bill Belichick handles players, click on this piece by the always excellent Joe Posnanski from the Kansas City Star.
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