Former Kentucky basketball players Cameron Mills, Jeff Sheppard and Jared Prickett took a road trip to Louisville earlier this season to see their former UK coach, Rick Pitino, send his Louisville team against Utah Valley State and coach Mark Pope, another one of his former players at Kentucky.
But the reason the group went might surprise you.
“We were behind Pope’s bench and we saw Rex (Chapman) sitting closer to Coach P (Pitino) and then Derek (Anderson) was sitting with his fiancée with the wealthy people. Winston (Bennett) was behind Pope’s bench like we were,” said Mills. “Our goal was to constantly yell to get a technical and try to get him (Pope) in trouble.”
Mills still remembers a Christmas day practice his freshman year when the team was split into groups. When his group finished lifting weights, older teammates persuaded him to ask Pitino if they could go home.
“I owe him a great deal,” said Mills. “You can imagine what he said after I interrupted practice,” Mills laughed and said. “Later we went to the Hyatt for Christmas dinner and Anthony (Epps) yelled, ‘Coach, Cam wants to know when we can go home?’ That’s how we are. So we want him (Pope) to win but it’s not as much to support him as it is to laugh.”
At halftime, all the former Cats got together for a picture on the court. After the game, Pitino invited them to join him.
“Jeff and I talk about once a week about various things,” Mills said. “Jared I see once or twice a year. I have seen Winston at various autograph sessions or fundraisers. I run into Rex once or twice a year and he seemed to be doing great. Pope? I had not seen him since he was an assistant coach at Georgia and came to Rupp Arena.”
“I kind of think I do, but I don’t know,” Mills said. “Mark probably tells the best stories to be honest. I think I have had all my teammates on my radio show (from 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday on FoxSports 1580 AM), and a couple of them twice. Mark had just got the Utah Valley job when I had him on. I was trying to do a serious interview and be professional.
“He completely ignored the question I asked and he said, ‘Cam, remember how scared we were of coach Pitino?’ Then he just took off. The fun thing is there are so many things I don’t remember until they tell stories and are right. At the time none of stories were that funny because they involved us getting yelled at a lot. Now they are hysterical because of how scared and fearful we were of coach Pitino and of losing.”
Pitino’s players at UK did have that respectful fear of him. Mills’ memories also made me wonder how former players who were so loyal to him feel now after the off- court issues he’s had at Louisville?
“That’s a hard question. He did a great job taking over at Kentucky in 1989,” Mills said. “We view him as our coach. He’s always been our coach. It’s difficult because he is at Louisville and we see things like him flipping off the crowd on the way out of Rupp Arena (in December) and the issue a couple of years ago and now the prostitution scandal. It’s hard to watch but I don’t think any of us wish any ill will on him because we know what we owe him.
“I understand every UK fan’s frustration and how some feel about him, but I wish they could understand for me that I got to be a Wildcat because of him. He said I could walk on. He had no reason to do that. He said, ‘It’s your dream, you can walk on. The only difference between you and (Tony) Delk is that your parents have to pay for you to be here.’
“He treated me like Tony Delk. He yelled at me more than Delk, (Ron) Mercer and Anderson. cause he did, I did more than I ever thought I could at Kentucky. I owe him a great deal. Me and ex-players are not going to jump in and root against Louisville all the time, because he is still our coach and that won’t change.”
There was no way Kentucky coach John Calipari or anyone on his staff or team would criticize the officiating after Saturday’s 89-62 win at South Carolina even if official Doug Sirmons did hit Calipari with two technicals and eject him just 2-1/2 minutes into the game.
“I have never been prouder of a team. They are now empowered. They’ve proven that they don’t need me and I love it,” Calipari said on Twitter after the game. He was not available to the media.
Since Calipari has been at Kentucky I’ve never seen him so upset with any official. It took five players and assistant coach Tony Barbee to keep him away from Sirmons. What was even stranger was that the technicals came after a foul was called on South Carolina.
Buzz Peterson, a former head coach at Tennessee and several other schools, had no trouble indicating on Twitter how he felt about Sirmons.
“What Doug Sirmons did today is absolutely embarrassing to college officiating. He has a short fuse and coaches for years have complained,” Peterson tweeted.
He followed that with this: “To toss a coach out in less than 3 minutes is ridiculous. I hope Jerry Tipton (of the Lexington Herald-Leader) digs into the history of Doug Sirmons’s officiating. #shortfuse.”
Finally, he tweeted: “This is an expensive day for Doug Sirmons. Either private jets or a couple of body guards from here out.”
Hopefully, Peterson is wrong about that and Kentucky’s win certainly took the sting out of Calipari’s ejection. What will be interesting now is whether Sirmons works any more UK games. My guess is no.
Freshman linebacker Kash Daniel of Paintsville and freshman guard Maci Morris of Bell County have forged a special friendship at Kentucky because of their eastern Kentucky roots.
Daniel told how Morris’ roommate, Makenzie Can of Anderson County, reacted while they were all watching the national championship football game and Morris said something about soup beans.
“‘What in the world are soup beans?’ she said. I thought I everybody knew what soup beans were,” Daniel said. “But she called them pinto beans back home.”
Morris worked her way into Coach Matthew Mitchell’s starting lineup. Daniel, who enrolled at UK in January, would like to do the same for Coach Mark Stoops next season.
“I am really proud of Maci. I see her every night on WLEX or ABC 36 scoring 12 or 15 points a game,” Daniel said. “She still can’t guard me, though. I don’t care what she says. She really can’t. Her or McKenize can’t. I have proposed a 2-on-2 basketball game but I don’t think coach Stoops would like that too much.”
So who would Daniel, who tore a rim down last year dunking for his high school team, have for his partner?
“If I got to pick, I would probably try to be friends with Jamal Murray or somebody,” Daniel joked.
Then he turned serious about Morris.
“I am really proud of what Maci has done. I followed her high school career and seeing what she has done this year just makes me really proud of her, and I know her dad and family is proud. To see her come from Bell County and see her dominate in the SEC like that, it gives me hope maybe being a freshman somehow I can contribute in the SEC. Maci is going to do nothing but great things here on out.”
Linebacker coach Andy Buh came to Kentucky after working as defensive coordinator at California and turned down a chance to leave UK for another job despite UK’s 5-7 record last season.
One reason might have been UK’s recruiting success. Buh said the record was not as important as the process.
“It is a two-year process for most of us. A lot of kids make decisions based on the whole experience. This staff does a great job getting to know families and generating relationships,” Buh said.
“We make it so it is real hard to turn away from us. We create a bond. All these kids we have been recruiting for two or three years. I have been talking to 2017 recruits for a year now. I’ve had dozens of them on campus.”