What do I know about basketball? Not much.
What do I love about basketball? Everything.
I am before Title IX, so the high school I attended in Toledo had no girls basketball, and my physical education teacher at the junior college I attended told us on the first day of class to get lost, that he had no time for our class as he was too busy as head coach of men’s basketball. In high school and college, I was almost 5’ 10” and 125 pounds, and I was interested in playing- learning more about the magic of racing up and down a gym floor.
So where did the love come from? The love came from my mother who played basketball at Benham High School and regaled us with stories about her playing time there and from hours of listening to the play- by- play exploits of the University of Kentucky Wildcats from the time I was ten years old.
Back when I was president of Southeast Kentucky Community College, still under the umbrella of the University of Kentucky, I had season passes to the football games, but there was a lottery among the community college presidents in the state for a single set of tickets to a home basketball game. That’s how precious they were.
So when I picked up Coach John Calipari’s Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out a few days ago, I was immediately enthralled, couldn’t put the book down until I had read every page. Now I know a little more about college basketball and need to buy three more copies: a copy for my granddaughter and a copy for two nephews.
It’s written in plain English, and some names were so familiar. I also got a bird’s eye view of the Wildcat Coal Lodge. With Kentucky’s current number 13 ranking, perhaps most readers are not interested in what I have to say, but you each have your own team, high school, college, pro, and maybe even that junior high team that features your son or daughter on the roster.
What fascinated me most in Coach Cal’s book was his discussions of “one and done” and his recommendations for the ways in which the NCAA needs rule changes.
Regardless of how you might feel about “one and done,” the reality is that it exists. The U.S. Supreme Court made that decision in the case of Spencer Haywood. In 1995 Kevin Garnett went straight from high school to the NBA, and players such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have as well.
Coach Calipari doesn’t make decisions on when his players are ready for the NBA, but he attempts to get his players to consider the pros and cons. Family members and agents are also giving input, but ultimately the player must decide.
Something that stuck with me days after I put the book aside was the NCAA rules on feeding players and Calipari’s comments about weight loss among players who are not being fed adequately: “one formal ‘training meal’ a day for their scholarship athletes.” Look at the height and weight of today’s college basketball players. The one training meal , a few snacks, and nutritional supplements like energy bars are inadequate for these players. And some do not have financial support from parents to enable them to buy the meals they need. Can you imagine their embarrassment as they shed weight and energy with the demands of practice and games?
Also, on occasion these players are expected to be dressed nicely in a suit. Do any of us believe for a minute that a trip to Walmart or Sears will suffice to outfit these young men who soar close to seven feet or above- even if they have the funds for Walmart or Sears.
And there’s the issue of disability. A strong player today may be permanently injured in next week’s game.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge that in many arenas individuals making decisions on infractions may at times tend to let prejudices and preferences interfere with their decisions. Calipari suggests that names of players, coaches, and schools be redacted so that committees are less likely to be impacted by their prejudices and/or preferences.
I’ll conclude by reiterating the question that I posed at the beginning of the column: How much do I know about basketball? My answer is still “Not much,” but I’m learning.
Contact Dr. Vivian Blevins at [email protected]