So much has happened over the past few days that a lot has passed under the bridge without comment from my end. I was pretty focused on trying to do justice to Bill Keightley the past several days. And I headed to San Antonio for the Final Four earlier today. I did get to see the Memorial Service through streaming video, and was moved by many of the speakers. My dad wrote the live column from the event, and did it much more eloquently than I could have. You can read my last Keightley column here. Now, cleaning up some loose ends, including one Keightley question:
HOW TO HONOR MR. WILDCAT: I’ve seen many suggestions, and many good ones. Leaving his chair empty (particularly appropriate, I think). A uniform patch. Naming something after him. My suggestion, I guess, is a little more old-school. In the tradition of wearing black while in mourning, I’d propose that UK wear black uniforms at home for one season. This is different from what many programs do — breaking out black as a marketing gimmick. This is doing it with a purpose. Put on the black, wear it for one season, then never do it again. To me, it would be a powerful reminder.
CREAN TO INDIANA: You haven’t heard a discouraging word about this hire, and there’s good reason. It’s a great hire. Crean is one of the most creative and industrious recruiters out there. He has a great appreciation for Indiana basketball, and knows how to recruit the state. He’s also got major recruiting contacts in the Chicago area and throughout the midwest. If you haven’t been to a Marquette game, you don’t realize how involved he is with students and fans of all kinds. He will drum up support — as if they needed much drumming up in Indiana. And he’ll also do this — raise money, and raise the financial support of the program to bring IU’s facilities into line with the rest of the Big Ten Conference. I think many aspects of the job Crean did at Marquette may not have gotten the full national attention they deserved because, while Marquette became a regular Top 25 program, it didn’t have the kind of visibility that Crean will have at IU. His style of play is one of the more unique styles in college basketball. It’s funny, I was one day away from a blog entry ripping the IU search committee for what was shaping up to be a fiasco of a coaching search, and then they get probably the best fit in America for the job. Congrats to them, and to Crean.
MEMPHIS IN THE FINAL FOUR: I expect I’ll stir up some controversy with tomorrow’s column, which suggests that Memphis was better off for staying in Conference USA (at least where basketball is concerned). I expect I’ll stir up even more by going a step further, by saying that Memphis has eclipsed all of those schools that bolted C-USA for greener conference pastures. But I don’t think there’s any arguing it. Memphis has had three top-2 seeds. It had been to two straight Elite Eights before this year’s Final Four run. It has won 10 NCAA Tournament games since the conference realignment, and gone 54-1 against C-USA competition. While banging their heads against the Big East (and Atlantic 10), those schools that bolted C-USA have won just a combined five NCAA Tournament games, and four of those were this season.
OPENING DAY IN CINCINNATI: I don’t know about you, but it’s awfully hard to get used to not having the voice of Joe Nuxhall gracing the Cincinnati Reds’ broadcasts. I know, he had been doing a limited schedule. But his voice, his pauses in the action while you could hear the crowd milling around as you waited for his next words, were always a rite of summer to me, and I miss him.
IN SAN ANTONIO: I’ve arrived for the Final Four, and Friday, we get our first meeting with players and coaches. But tonight, I went to the Rupp Awards ceremony for coach of the year Bruce Pearl of Tennessee and player of the year Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina. Interesting comments from Pearl, who not only got the Rupp Award, but was made an honorary Kentucky Colonel by Gov. Steve Beshear. Pearl said . . .
“It is great to be a Tennessee Vol. It is a special place. . . . To coach in the SEC, like coach Rupp, and at Tennessee to receive this award is very, very significant. Kentucky’s basketball program is still the benchmark that we all compare ourselves to in the SEC. One of my first goals that I set in my very first press conference was to try to get this program competitive with Kentucky, because that’s where the bar was set.
“And I can tell you when you walk into Rupp Arena and coach on that floor, it is an honor. And we’ve played pretty good basketball there. We’ve only won once, but we’ve played well, and I think fans there appreciate that, and they also our style of play because Coach Rupp was an innovator and was one of the first coaches to push the tempo. And we certainly try to play like Coach Rupp did.”
Of the Kentucky Colonel plaque he received, Pearl said: “I’m going to keep this in my car for those long drives up I-75 when I’m trying to recruit Kentucky’s finest.”