Just “People Watchin” at the Final Four

final four back row

The man in the row in front of us could have possibly been dead for all we knew.  His lifeless 30-something body didn’t show much interest in moving when those around him were yelling, shaking, and smacking him.  Slight panic ensued in section 612 of Lucas Oil Stadium.

My 15 year-old son and I made the trip to Indianapolis for this year’s NCAA Final Four hoping to see our Kentucky Wildcats finish off a perfect 40-0 season.  Those hopes were dashed with a semi-final loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night.  Unlike many UK fans, we stuck around for Monday’s final between Duke and Wisconsin.

There may not be a greater place on earth for fathers and sons to bond simply by sharing the wealth of worthless information and basketball history that lives in the streets of a Final Four.  And for this dad, it was an opportunity to squash the image that I’m completely oblivious to my surroundings (because I sort of am).

Unleashing a wealth of basketball history to an interested youngster came easy while walking on the streets of Indy.  Basketball personalities, past and present were everywhere, in real life and on the sides of buildings.

KY Seattle

Perhaps the truest (and most comical) father/son bonding came simply from people watching on the streets.  Walking around different sections of the downtown area on gameday and having conversations about different types of people and all the crazy stuff going on.

The party blocks-so full of beer drinkers getting primed for the game that you can barely walk through- but you walk your son through it all anyway……..this is how you don’t act son.

The “I wanna get on TV” sections.  ESPN, etc setup at various places with people always desperately trying to get on TV.


The beggars and street performers just trying to capitalize on all the extra foot traffic.

The police officers, patiently dealing with all the drunken geniuses blundering in the streets.

My son was impressed with my ability to spot random people in the crowded streets since I usually can’t find my way back to where we park our car without his help.

“There’s the guys that sat by us at the semi-finals.”

“There’s the guy your uncle sold his tickets to at IHOP.”

“There’s the guys that sat across from us at Cracker Barrel this morning.”

“That was Heshimu Evans.” (played on 1998 UK championship team).

Dad……you, like notice people, don’t you?


Back in section 612.  Top level of Lucas Oil Stadium.  Only 2 rows separate us from the very top.

final four court2

During the first half, a commotion to my left draws my attention.  My son, Karrick Ryne and all others to his left have quickly risen to their feet as a lady in front of them, in a panic, is trying in vain to return her adult son to consciousness.  She shakes, smacks, calls his name.  His head falls straight back.  He looks to be in serious trouble.

“Somebody needs to go get someone!”

I hear an older lady say from the row behind me.

Three rows of people are on their feet now, most of them doing the exact thing I was doing…….watching, and waiting to see if someone else was going to do something.

The guy still wasn’t moving.

But Karrick Ryne was.  He left his spot in the center of the row without speaking and pushed past me, flew out of our row, and went down 19 rows, two at a time, disappearing into the concourse looking for assistance.

Shortly after KR went out of sight, the man showed signs of life, opening his eyes, and raising back up in his seat somewhat.  His friends/family gave him water.  He started assuring them he was ok.  Guy was sweating heavily now. I turned to the man sitting beside me and suggested that the man was most likely drunk.  Figured those seated in front of him were in danger of getting puked on before the game was over.

KR returned to his seat, visibly shaken.  I praised him for doing the right thing and acting quickly.  He kept shrugging his shoulders wondering if he’d overreacted (an older gentleman behind us actually placed a 911 call) and wondered if the first aid folks were ever going to come.

KR just kept watching, waiting, and wondering.  This was all new territory for him.  For me, I was just getting irritated at this “sick” man now and his whole group who had failed to at least turn around and acknowledge the fact that my son had sprinted for help because half our section thought he was in serious medical distress.

Two ladies finally appeared at the bottom of our section some 8 minutes later, carrying first aid bags.  Passed out guy and the three people with him pretended to not see them!  They were going to act like nothing happened.  My whole row wasn’t buying it.  We all raised our arms and pointed to say, “right here dude”.  Passed out guy pleaded his case for only a minute before leaving with the EMT’s.  He never returned.

A crisis was started by someone’s poor judgement.  Their problem became the problem of others.  Their subsequent actions showed that they were perfectly willing to be blind to those around them…….the beauty of drunkenness.

In that moment of crisis, when a man was sitting motionless in his seat, it was the adults who were frozen in place.  In the back of our minds, most of us stood watching and hoping someone else would go for help.  But no one did.  Some of us may have had that immediate thought in the back of our minds, “it’s probably self-inflicted, I’m not getting involved.”

The young mind is a clean slate, not poisoned by things we are “certain” of.  Not hindered by watching and analyzing everything to death before acting.  Perhaps these same things poison an adult Christians’ ability to live by faith and not by sight.  When someone cried out, “somebody needs to get somebody”, KR was the only one in our immediate area under the age of 30.  And he’s also the only one that moved.  The rest of us were busy thinking……..and watching.

That’s one way I’m glad he’s not like his dad.  For all the times that he has looked to his dad for a cue for the right thing to do……he looked quickly to me this time and saw that I wasn’t going to do it.  So he did it himself.

Yeah, I’m a people watcher.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not an EMT.

END NOTE: The first stadium worker that Karrick Ryne approached to tell about an unresponsive person in our section told him to go find somebody else because they were on break.   You can’t make this stuff up.

Daddy, Are You Crying?

R.J. Hunter, Ron Hunter

I first saw Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter when he was injured in a post-game celebration after leading his team to an NCAA tournament berth by winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.   I’m pretty sure his injury was the result of an embrace with his son, who happens to be a high-scoring guard on this team.  In post game interviews, he seemed like a breath of fresh air.  Little did we know how much better this story was going to get in the coming days.

When the big dance tipped off on Thursday afternoon, instead of loosely following my bracket picks from work, I was home in bed with a migraine by the time the first game reached halftime.  I was rudely awakened later in the afternoon by the loud yelling from another part of my house by my high school freshman son.  I was disoriented but I knew what must be happening…….the first huge upset of March Madness.  Obviously, it’s frowned upon to make loud unnecessary outbursts when dad has a migraine.  But when I finally arose from my slumber, and my son excitedly told me about 14-seed Georgia State’s improbable upset of 3-seed Baylor on R.J. Hunter’s bomb in the final seconds (and Ron’s topple off the stool) I decided to withhold my wrath.

I fell in love with Ron Hunter’s coaching style, his fashion style (or lack of over-concern for it), his child-like excitement, and his humility.  But what has drawn me to him most is his bond with his son.  It’s easy to fall in love with the underdog stories each year, as most of us do.  And each year it seems that a new coach wins over the country with a colorful personality.  Perhaps the most lovable thing about Ron Hunter is his absence of “swagger”.

If you’re an 18 year-old prospect, maybe swagger is high on your list of coaching qualities.  But if you’re just a dad, and a basketball fan and a fan of integrity, your ears perk up when a Ron Hunter shows up in the spotlight.

The phrase that keeps coming up in interviews is

“I love this kid”.

Over and over.  He loves his son.  He loves all his players.  His love is not based on their ability to pull out last second wins.  The last second wins only provide him a national stage to proclaim his love and pride for his players.   He pours his energy into taking them to a place they never dreamed possible…..with the passion of a coach and the heart of a father.

There’s something special about March Madness.  And there’s something special about a father coaching their son (or daughter).  When you combine the two, it creates special moments to go beyond basketball.  

I’ve coached all four of my kids on some level of sports.

KR 8th grade nightDSC00996

One lesson that you hope every player walks away from their sports experience with is this:

At the end of each game, take pride in your effort.  Win or lose, walk off the court or field with your head held high knowing you did all you could do to help your team win.

I sat watching Georgia State vs Xavier on Saturday night, trying not to let myself get too excited about the possibility of a Ga St. win.  But I couldn’t help myself.  This was my team.  I was emotionally attached to this father/son combination and underdog story.  I found myself yelling at the TV and reacting with dejection each time Xavier made a big shot down the stretch.

My oldest daughter, a freshman college soccer player was home for spring break, and happened to be the only one in the room with me as the game wound down.  Ron Hunter took his son R.J. out of the game in the final seconds of their disappointing defeat.

R.J. raced off the floor with his head held high, knowing he’d given his all.  He also knew he’d made his father proud.  Father and son embraced.   All I could say was “Aww”, but I guess my voice cracked.

My daughter Macy said, “daddy, are you crying?”……..”shut up Macy”

I wasn’t the only one.  In the postgame press conference what caught my attention most was the shift in Ron Hunter’s voice as he was talking about the game and his team’s unlikely postseason run.  He completely broke down……..when his words changed from coach to dad.  The same……but different.  And so special.

I love this man…….

You can watch the interview below if you haven’t already seen it.  Hope to see him back next year.

Don’t Live and Die By the Scoreboard



Winning isn’t everything.  But playing to win is.

This post is sort of about sports.  Sort of about UK basketball.  Sort of about life.

Life mirrors sport.  Or does sport mirror life?

Sometimes we need to shy away from the obsession with measuring results.  Pass/Fail?  What’s on the scoreboard?

Effort.  Heart.  Intentions.  Shouldn’t these count for something?

A few years back, I coached a middle school girls basketball team that played their hearts out every game, but always had terrible trouble putting the ball in the basket.  So many times they heard this phrase, “Girls we did so many things well tonight.  Competed hard. Showed tremendous heart.  But unfortunately, this gym has a scoreboard too.  Don’t let our lack of points showing on it trick you into thinking you didn’t play well.”

Judgement in this case needed to be based on effort, not results.  Don’t let results discourage you.  Keep working hard.

Conversely, don’t let wins trick you into thinking your level of play is acceptable.

My wife runs marathons.  I don’t run.  If I challenge her to a one-mile race and she beats me by one yard, who really wins?  Which one of us needs to make changes in their approach to competition?  To allow me to finish close behind her, one or both of these had to happen:

1)  I showed more heart than her and out-competed her.  I raised up to her level.

2)  She didn’t give maximum effort.  Did just enough to win.  She dropped to my level.

Is that acceptable?  Yeah, if you’re satisfied with where you are.  Not if you want to be a champion.

It’s better to lose than to consistently play poorly and win.

Losing necessitates the need for change.  Winning does not.

Why the obsession with results?  Measuring results.  Keeping score.

Sometimes we look the other way when somebody half-way does something.  Sometimes we have no reaction when somebody does something that lacks good judgement.  Our reaction only comes comes when the aftermath of their actions affects us.  Everything is peachy as long as results are good.  But results are overrated as a measuring stick.

But what about intentions?  Effort?  Motivation?

So many times bad results grow from good intentions.  I find myself soothing peoples’ reactions to bad results with the half-joking,

“Well, she meant well.”

But it’s true.  Otherwise, we are measuring ability rather than heart.

When a friend presents a laundry list of all the things that another friend is doing wrong, do we simply agree?  Or do we try to look at the heart and effort of the accused?  “I know they do ____ poorly, but they are trying their best.”

The person who recognizes their faults and works to improve is more admirable than one who can “produce” more with little effort.

The UK basketball program lives under the constant microscope of fans and media.   I suppose my microscopic assessments tend to irritate my fellow fans.  I’m too critical.  I can’t be pleased.  They’re just kids, you know.

What sets me apart?  Most fans watch games looking for a win.  I’m just strange.  I watch games with an eye for players doing things right.  The amount of effort that goes into doing things the right way.

Regular season games are learning opportunities.  The impact of the lesson is diminished when poor effort and execution still results in a win.

It’s better to lose than to play poorly and win.  The scoreboard becomes more important in March.

This holds true as long as your goal is to make steady improvement, day after day, game after game……..in order to win when it really matters.

Last year’s Kentucky team lost 10 regular season games then made an incredible run to the NCAA finals.  A highly regarded team, loaded with ultra-talented freshmen  struggled throughout the season to the point of nearly missing the tournament.

Talent didn’t automatically result in wins.  Performance became so bad that I quit watching for a while, but not because of losses.

As a middle school basketball coach, I’m certainly not an expert on basketball, especially at higher levels.  But I do have a  firm grasp on the scope of fundamental skills and basketball knowledge that are necessary for success in high school.   If you can’t understand and carry out certain things, you don’t play.

Last years freshmen were the equivalent of passing a student through to high school that couldn’t read……….just because they were really good at math.  We had college freshmen who were absent of things that should have been present as high school freshmen.

As long as we’re winning playing zone defense, we don’t even have to learn any of the finer points of man to man defense.

As longs as Rivals has you rated high, there’s no reason to change your mental approach to game and practice.

As long as you can dunk over everybody, there’s no reason for you to learn basic low post footwork.

You get the picture.  Calipari’s team development was set back months due to the absence of fundamentals.  His elite freshmen had been allowed to skip over the finer details of basketball at all earlier levels simply because they produced results.

As a team, they were just beginning to grasp and execute concepts at the beginning of tournament time that should have been taught in their middle school days.

I was mortified at what 5-star recruits had become.  If we were going to get players like this every year, let’s change the model.  If 5-star guys have evolved into fundamentally poor underachievers, let’s get some 3-star guys that have failed enough to learn from it.  Let’s change the model.

Thankfully Cal has changed the model somewhat.  Kids that were headed for the D-league have stuck around for at least another year.  Cal’s fascination with winning a championship with all freshmen is a thing of the past.  And this year’s freshmen class has restored my faith in incoming high profile players.  These kids understand the game.  They compete hard.  They were properly prepared for college basketball.

In tough environments on the road, they understandably play like freshmen.  It’s part of the maturing process.  At home, they get complacent.  They get too comfortable.  They get outscored in the second half by teams that they lead by 20 at halftime.  And sometimes you look up and the opponent has a 34-17 rebounding advantage against our team that’s bigger than every NBA team but one.

Cal speaks one language to the media and public that sends a constant marketing message to incoming recruits.  He speaks another language to his players to make them the best they can be.  And he speaks yet another language to his assistant coaches (this would be the language of brutal truth).

I often speak the language of brutal truth when it comes to UK basketball.  Some people don’t  like to hear it.  If you only look at wins and losses, it seems to be harsh criticism of kids.  But if you listen closely……and watch closely, you’ll realize that I don’t criticize guys who lay it out for their school and their teammates, every second of every game.

When talented guys do this, the score will take care of itself.

Side notes:

*Why the Chris Gettelfinger picture?  Because if you don’t know who he is, don’t even try to argue with me.

*I have been accused of being too harsh in my criticism of the Harrison twins.  Cal has brought them along quite well.  They were grossly overrated coming in and expectations of them were unrealistic.  But they (along with James Young) may have possessed the poorest grasp of basketball fundamentals of anyone to ever wear a UK uniform.  And Andrew has the burden of playing out of position.  He isn’t a point guard and will never play a game in the NBA as a point guard.  His best bet for an NBA career is if his brother is drafted next year and he plays two years at 2-guard.

*If we don’t lose a game before the tournament, I think our chances of being national champs diminishes greatly.

*Lack of playing time for Hawkins and Willis has more to do with recruiting than it does with any other factors.  5-star guys in high school can’t see 5-star guys having to wait for playing time.

*For young high-profile athletes, I think there is too much hero-worshipping and butt-kissing on social media by fans and not enough honest correction and accountability by coaches and parents.  They float in the clouds because we put them there.  And we make excuses for them when the stumble………Jameis Winston is just a kid, you know.  But his actions are most likely a result of his heart & character…….not because he’s just a kid.  It’s ok to expect better.




Big Blue Nation- Some Things You Learn the Hard Way


“Shoot yeah, man!  We’re just gonna reload and compete for the Final Four pretty much every year”

Yes, I celebrated  a championship in 1996.  Never liked Pitino.  Just tolerated him while he was here.

Yes, I celebrated in 2012.  Calipari is ok.  He seems to be a little kinder to people .

I still think John Calipari was a great hire.

Of course I celebrated in 1998.  Tubby was my guy.  Integrity.  None of that northern arrogance.  A gentleman.

If you don’t like Tubby as a person, you may not like people.

If you loved Pitino when he was here but hate him now, then you will probably hate Calipari when he leaves too, like he left you at the altar.

But I kept a list of all the people who used the phrase “10-loss Tubby”.

I love coaches who can take their guys and beat your guys and don’t have to have supreme talent to win; winning ugly is acceptable.

I never bothered to learn how to spell Bill G’s last name.  I remember that there were people actually celebrating like it was actually a good thing that we’d fired Tubby and hired him.  Some things you learn the hard way.

Calipari’s potential 40-0 team quickly approaches becoming his 2nd consecutive 10-loss team (“Tubby has to go.  He just can’t recruit.)  Some things you learn the hard way.

My dad took my brother and me to our first UK game the first year Rupp Arena opened.  I remember actually saying a prayer as I listened on the radio when we trailed Providence in the NIT semifinals in 1976 (and of course the prayer was answered and we won).  I remember crazy details of the 78′ championship game as a 10 year-old boy.  Never missed a game as a student at UK, even Eddie Sutton’s last miserable year.  Saw adults cry after the 92′ Duke loss.  Scraped my knuckles on the ceiling during the 94′ LSU comeback.  Drove 15 hours with a pregnant wife to watch a regional final vs Tim Duncan’s Wake Forest team in 96′ in Minnesota.  Took an infant to the Final Four in 97.  Drove 22 hours with a toddler to San Antonio for the Final Four in 98.  Made it back to the Final Four with my son in 2011 in Houston and to the regional semifinals and finals in Atlanta with my son in 2012.  I bleed blue.  I take UK basketball kinda serious.

But this year, the craziest thing happened on the way to 40-0.  I quit watching.  No heart.  Lack of effort.  No fundamentals.  Mistakes that you’d expect freshmen in high school to get benched for, are repeated over and over and over, and the same kids stay on the floor giving the same lame effort.  Accountability?  Will to win?  Nope.  Laziest, most selfish team ever?  Definitely.

Gee,  I could park myself in front of the tv and watch bad teams compete hard and play with a sense of pride and lose night after night.  But I just couldn’t watch that crap any more.  Thirty years.  The worst.

All the irritating things that I have heard in recent years begin to sound so lame and based on wishful thinking.  Most of it can be filed under the category of “the same basic cloud of salesmanship that coach Cal spews 24/7/365 toward 18 year-old kids”.  People actually believe that we can fill our roster with high school kids and win a national championship even though it’s never been done before.  It hasn’t.  Don’t try to revise history on me.  And it’s not going to happen.  This year’s group of so-called super freshman have no clue how to play basketball.  I’d go as far as saying that anyone who coached them in middle school or high school should be tarred and feathered.  Calipari falls into that same category.  “Oh, it doesn’t matter if ____declares for the draft, we’ve got ____ coming in next year” (and he looks awesome on this mix tape that I watched on YouTube dunking against 5’10” guys)

Too much of this season is spent as a recruiting poster for next season.  The message is clear from Big Blue Madness on.

1) “We are a players first school”  FALSE.  That only applies if you are Anthony Davis or John Wall (then you are his recruiting pitch).  If you are Kyle Wiltjer or Ryan Harrow, you transfer because you may not have a scholarship.  If you’re Archie Goodwin or Marquis Teague you quietly walk away to the D-League.  If you are Jarrod Polson or Jon Hood you live like a 2nd class citizen while the 5-star guys get 40 minutes a game while giving horrible effort and embarrassing the Kentucky uniform.

2)  It’s all about the NBA.  All Calipari wants to talk about is how many players are in the league and this is the place to come if you want to get there.  Constantly parading former players around to impress the recruits.  Sure, it’s effective.  Perhaps it’s shallow and perhaps we have a shallow pool of players?  It’s certainly a shallow pool of basketball IQ, heart, will to win, and any resemblance of unity.

3)  Instant gratification.  This is the killer.

If the coach wants to develop players, he needs to shut up about one and done.  He needs to shut up about the draft. 

Kids are showing up that don’t know how to play.  They don’t need to show up on campus with intentions of staying only one year.  They need to have intentions of learning the game of basketball.  And here’s a novel idea that this year’s group seems to have missed out on their entire life:  they might need to set out to do all the things necessary to help their team win basketball games.  That brings us to the final point.

4)  Me.  It’s all about me.  The “One and Done” world has evolved a bit over recent years as this generation of players has passed through middle school and high school with the “elite” label, having the disadvantage of seeing the instant success of too many Derrick Rose types while their AAU & high school coaches have failed them with accountability and fundamentals…….and at the same time, college coaches are telling them they can be the next Lebron or D Rose.

5)  Me #2 is Cal’s ego.  He gets a little too caught up in draft numbers and NBA players and forgets about WINS in the ongoing system of the sales pitch production that UK basketball has become.    Coach has to kill the draft talk and get into some Vince Lombardi type stuff.  Nobody really cares about the NBA, especially UK fans.  Besides, he’s in danger of absolutely flooding the D-leaugue and Euro-leagues.  Cal owes it to his players to give them better and firmer life advice than to let them enter the draft when he knows they’re not going to get a sniff of an NBA roster, not to make his next year’s roster better but because he is in a position to give them advice that can have a huge impact on their financial future (Goodwin and Teague?  Really?  just another notch on his draft belt and get them out of the way for the next crop?  A chance for an actual nba career after 4 years of college? probably)  Selfish fans blindly drink it up and those players begin to fade into obscurity.  Who sees it coming and is in a good position to steer them away from it?

tubby and chuck

This picture is what college basketball is really about.  A man of integrity that can flat out coach.  And a player that did everything he could to help his team win……for 4 years.  I’m sick of the year-round production.  I’m not 18 and I get tired of propaganda geared toward the next crop of recruits.  I get tired of seeing kids on the floor wearing UK uniforms that act like they should be playing for Louisville.  Some players can make any coach look bad.  You can’t teach a kid to play with heart.  Cal better start recruiting some kids that have it.  He might even want to take Chuck Hayes with him to help him identify what it looks like.  Some things you learn the hard way.