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By LARRY VAUGHT
Sometimes there are stories you remember for a long, long time like the one involving Mark Krebs and his mother, Terri.
Krebs was a walk-on senior guard at UK last year. He played sparingly for three coaches Ã¢â‚¬â€ Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie and John Calipari Ã¢â‚¬â€ but never complained because for the former Newport Catholic standout was living out his dream.
Yet as joyous as last season was when UK won 35 games, finished first in the SEC and was ranked No. 1 in the nation at times, it was also a bittersweet time for Krebs because he knew his mother was dying.
I still remember wiping away tears when he talked about what just having her at UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Senior Day game meant. Terri Krebs, 50, battled breast cancer for almost nine years and was in a wheelchair at that game just as she was for the others she attended last season.
Mark Krebs knew he was lucky in one way because eight years ago doctors had given his mother only nine months to live and yet she had survived to see her first grandchild born and to see him on Senior Day.
When Krebs, the other seniors and the seniorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ parents all hugged Terri Krebs at midcourt during the pregame ceremony, there was no way to keep a dry eye.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was definitely emotional for me,Ã¢â‚¬Â Krebs said after the game. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I knew I had to play. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to cry. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not like you are out there by yourself. I kept myself together, but inside emotionally I was a wreck. I knew how excited my mother was to be there.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I saw her last night and knew she did not have a lot of energy, and that just breaks my heart. I told her then I loved her, but she knows that. I know today had to be one of her best moments.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Until three months ago, she was still the most normal person you could ever be around. She was happy and worried about things like making sure by bank account was okay. She just worried about all the typical mom stuff, but the last three months have been very hard on her.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Terri Krebs passed away Wednesday afternoon at her home.
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leave it to Calipari to tell what she meant to so many.
“I know I speak for all of the Big Blue Nation when I express my deepest sympathies to Mark Krebs, his family and their friends as they mourn the loss of Mark’s mom, Terri. One of the special parts of our first year in Kentucky was being able to coach Mark and get to know him and his family,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ I just finished writing the foreword to Mark’s upcoming book and my words were largely inspired by Terri’s memorable participation in Senior Day ceremonies. Rest in peace Terri and know that all of the Big Blue Nation is here for your family.Ã¢â‚¬Â
* * *
If you have a favorite Terri Krebs/Mark Krebs memory, please share it. I know the family will appreciate it.
By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari had to know media members were anxious to get more information from him about KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s success in the NBA draft when he went on the Southeastern Conference summer teleconference earlier this week.
However, the Kentucky coach had a different message that he wanted to make sure he shared, too, and started his time on the teleconference talking about a one-day Red Cross trip he took to Haiti to see how relief efforts were going and see what impact the $1.5 million raised during the Hoops for Haiti telethon at UK last season had made.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just wanted to go down and see what impact it (the telethon) had,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Calipari. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I can tell you it is truly saving people. But there are no lights, no garbage pickup, no sanitation. People are living in tents. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still a total mess. I hope people have not taken their eye off the ball. I am trying to figure out what else we can do. We went to an orphanage. It was a powerful day.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari and others, including UK director of basketball operations Martin Newton, washed the feet of orphans at the New Life Orphanage in Sarthe, Haiti.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I would say that the ultimate level of service leadership would be washing someone’s feet,” Calipari told David Scott of coachcal.com. “That’s what I did and I’m telling you, it was a very powerful experience.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari, Newton and others dried the youngstersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ feet and then put new socks and tennis shoes on the kids.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can’t imagine the smiles and appreciation. It’s an amazing feeling to give those kids even a few minutes of that excitement that comes with getting new shoes. There were a lot of kids there and you have to figure most of them lost their parents in the quake Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â they perished. It’s heartbreaking stuff. But it’s amazing how upbeat and brave all the people are. They’re living in tents Ã¢â‚¬â€ a million people in tents Ã¢â‚¬â€ with no electricity and it’s the rainy season so there are mudslides. It’s just incredible,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari told Scott.
The trip Calipari realize how blessed he is and he plans to make sure his players understand the same thing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You don’t really understand it until you see the people standing in line for water. For water! We all just take water for granted, right? Truthfully, we were all there so we could report back to everyone here and throughout the country, who helped in our efforts. But I’m so happy I did it for the impact this has had on me. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go down for me, I went down to help represent our vast community. But I may have I benefited more than anybody from it,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari told Scott.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a side of the coach we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get to see when heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s coaching, recruiting or holding press conferences. Yet the compassion is there.
I have a friend in Lexington who knows Calipari well and recently had dinner with him and his wife.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s truly a good, caring person,Ã¢â‚¬Â my friend said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am not sure everybody understands that about him. He cares about people. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not just basketball. He wants to make a difference and help all kinds of people.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a goal we all should applaud even more than winning a national championship.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Florida coach Billy Donovan tried his best to recurit Patrick Patterson to play for the Gators Ã¢â‚¬â€ and almost got him.
Donovan also remained one of PattersonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s biggest supporters during his three years at UK and knows not having him next year is a major loss for Kentucky.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Any time you lose a good player it hurts your team. He had an outstanding career. He played for two different coaches,Ã¢â‚¬Â Donovan said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Two years he played in the low post and was very dominat and then John (Calipari) this year gave him the opportunity to step away from the basket and he showed he had the ability to do that.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He had to play through two coaches, but he truly showed his greatness and flourished in two completely different styles. When you are talking about great players, they will be a great player in any system and he was.Ã¢â‚¬Â
What made Patterson so good?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He played very, very fearlessly. He was a physical, powerful presence in our league. He played with great passion,Ã¢â‚¬Â Donovan said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That is a valuable commodity. That is also a skill and talent.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When you lost it, it can change your team. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know how his loss will impact Kentucky, but I admired how hard he played and competed. I felt Patrick always gave his all out there.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By HAL MORRIS
LEXINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ Dennis and Derrick Johnson believe the perception of Kentucky football has changed thanks to going to four straight bowl games.
The two former UK payers from Harrodsburg see no reason why that should not continue to improve under first-year coach Joker Phillips, either.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re getting more and more respect. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not to the level of Florida yet, and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think people expect us to be there. But the only thing that can change that is winning,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dennis Johnson said Tuesday during the annual Dennis and Derrick Johnson Football Clinic at KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Nutter Field House.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The more we win, and the more games we can play against a Florida State and win, we can promote our program more. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to set your sights high.Ã¢â‚¬Â
While the two played in bowl games during their time at Kentucky, Derrick Johnson says itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the consistency former coach Rich Brooks established and Phillips is trying to keep going that has been the key to success.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Me and my brother kind of made a decision to come here because football was down here for a while. We came here and went to a couple of bowls,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Consistency is how the image changed. We were going through coaches every two or three years and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to build a program like that. The coaches that are successful have been there andÃ‚Â had time to get it going.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Rich did an excellent job of bringing the program to where it is today. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m thoroughly impressed by him, and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a great guy.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Derrick Johnson thinks Phillips brings a boost of energy to the program.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Rich is an older guy, and I think JokerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to bring energy,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Your players duplicate your energy. Rich had energy, too, but JokerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s younger and he knows itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easier to relate to players, I think.Ã¢â‚¬Â
From what heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seen, Dennis Johnson has been impressed with the smooth transition from Brooks to Phillips.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everything is working out and I think (strength coach) Rock Oliver is going to be a tremendous help. He really tightened down the weight program and the discipline,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Dennis Johnson, who knows Phillips has some big holes to fill and has the pressure on to replicate UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s success over the past four season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We did lose a lot (of players from) last year, so I don t think we can expect two or three more victories, but I do think once JokerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s allowed to get all of his people he wants in, the recruits that he wants, it could happen. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to give him a few year s before people can judge him.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Derrick Johnson likes PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ recruiting abilities.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Joker is one of those guys where itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more about Jimmies and Joes than Xs and Os. To play in this league youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to have great talent. EverybodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty much got good coaches when you get to this level,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But JokerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s found out you have to get the athletes in here, and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s shown that he can do that.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m interested to see in a couple of years what will happen. I just hope they give him some time to get his stuff in and get the type of people that he wants in here.Ã¢â‚¬Â
What both brothers do expect is to see a more-wide UK offense this year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think Joker will open it up. We lost a lot of big linemen, so I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be able to pound a lot of people this year. But our skill position people are going to be better. When youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a little more wide open, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more chances to make stuff happen,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dennis Johnson said.
The brothers Johnson also wanted to talk about their camp, now in itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seventh year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think every year it keeps getting bigger. We keep getting the word out earlier, and UK is always gracious for letting us come over and use the facility,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dennis Johnson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just try to put on a well-organized camp so when they all come in, the kids are getting instruction plus have some fun.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Some of the fun Tuesday included a tour of Commonwealth Stadium and the UK locker room.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Being a young kid you can always imagine what it looks like, and then you go in and you here all the Ã¢â‚¬ËœoohsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœaahsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a great experience for them,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dennis Johnson said.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (June 29, 2010) — In a record-setting night, the USA U18 National Team (4-0) earned a berth in the gold medal game with a 122-89 semifinal victory over Canada (2-2) Tuesday night at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Men at Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio, Texas.
“That’s the goal and that’s what we came here for,” said USA and University of Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel.Ã‚Â “Not trying to sound conceited, but we expected to be in this position and this is what we’ve worked for. We’ve been together for three weeks and we’ve worked for this moment.Ã‚Â Hopefully, we can come out and seize the opportunity tomorrow.”
Austin Rivers (Winter Park H.S. / Winter Park, Fla.) poured in a game-high 35 points for the USA, shooting 12-of-18 from the field and sinking 9-of-12 in 3-point range, establishing new U.S. records at the U18 tournament. His 35 points broke the former record of 34 set by Calbert Cheaney versus Brazil in 1990, the first FIBA Americas U18 Championship. His nine 3-pointers made surpassed three different players who had previously sunk five 3-pointers in a single game, Aaron Brooks (2002), Terry Dehere (1990) and Steve Lepore (1998).
“Sometimes I just get in grooves where I hit a couple shots,” said Rivers. “You feel like the basket’s real wide. I know I hit a couple shots and then everything started going from there. After that it felt like any shot I threw up would go in, so it’s kind of like a lot of adrenaline. It felt like I had ultimate energy. Everything was falling.”
UK recruiting target Quincy Miller had 7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. LeBryan Nash, another player UK is recruiting, had 5 points and 1 rebound and center Amir Williams, a third potential recruit, had 2 points and 4 rebounds.
The team set a new single-game record at this event with 14 made 3-point field goals, breaking the previous record that was set in 2002, and tied in 2008 and again in the USA’s first contest this year.
“I thought we played well,” added Capel. “We did a good job defensively early.Ã‚Â I thought our guys respected Canada and we knew they were a very good team.Ã‚Â We came out and jumped on them early.Ã‚Â I thought we did it with our defense.Ã‚Â One of the things was a huge key for us was (Kyle) Wiltjer. He’s their leading scorer and we wanted to try to take him out of the game. We did a very, very good job of that.Ã‚Â He was shooting about 68 percent from three coming into this game.Ã‚Â One of our main goals was to not even let him get a 3-point attempt and our guys did a good job of following through on that.”
The U.S. squad will meet also undefeated Brazil (4-0) for the gold medal at 7:00 p.m. (all times CDT) Wednesday. Brazil upended defending gold medalist Argentina (2-2) 70-56 in the other semifinal game. Argentina and Canada will play for the bronze medal at 5:00 p.m. All four teams earlier qualified for the 2011 U19 World Championships in Latvia.
With the win, the U.S. upped its overall record to 37-2 at this event, which is a qualifying tournament for the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship, and has won four gold medals (1990, 1994, 1998, 2006), one silver medal (2008) and one bronze medal (2002) at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
Tony Mitchell (L.G. Pinkston H.S. / Dallas, Texas), who is headed to Missouri, added 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Kyrie Irving (St. Patrick’s H.S. / Elizabeth, N.J.), a Duke signee, contributed 12 points and seven assists. Jereme Richmond (Waukegan H.S. / Waukegan, Ill.), who will play for Illinois next year, scored 11 points. Josh Hairston (Montrose Christian School (Md.) / Fredericksburg, Va.), a future Duke player, rounded out the double-figure players with 10 points.
The red, white and blue, which has trailed in a game for a total of 1:24 through four games, led wire-to-wire against Canada. Appropriately, Rivers got the scoring started with a 3-pointer 52 seconds into the game. By the 3:33 mark the U.S. was up 22-2 and at 2:51 Canada scored its first field goal of the night.
“I love it. I love it,” stated Capel on Rivers’ performance. “It’s just really neat to watch him go through that.Ã‚Â Really, the best part about it was watching his teammates.Ã‚Â Seeing how excited they are.Ã‚Â These are some of his peers, some guys that are a little bit older than him, but just seeing how excited they were for him was really pretty neat.”
Rivers tied the former U.S. 3-point record with his fifth trey to close the first quarter scoring and put the U.S. up 37-10. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Rivers, who was perfect from beyond the arc in his first nine attempts, had the record with his sixth made three.
Rivers came out of the game late in the third quarter with 31 points. Knowing he was close to the record, Capel inserted Rivers back into the lineup to start the fourth quarter. At 9:09 Rivers drove in for two points and after a pair of treys from Trevor Cooney (Sanford H.S. / Wilmington, Del.), Rivers tipped in a Hairston miss at 6:56 for the record.
“No. When he told me to go in, he was smiling at me and I was wondering what it was about,” Rivers recalled when asked if he knew about the record. “Then he told me about two minutes later ‘we want you to get the record.’ So I got a little follow-up tip and then he took me out of the game. It’s just awesome to get that. I’m excited.”
KAUNAS, Lithonia (June 29, 2010) –Ã‚Â Following Sunday’s setback to Russia’s U18 team, the USA U17 Men’s Team conducted three practices and when the U.S. squad returned to the hardwood Tuesday night for its second and final exhibition game inÃ‚Â Kaunas, Lithuania, it displayed the focus and intensity required of a team with world championship gold medal aspirations and defeated the Lithuanian U17 team 92-79.
Adonis Thomas (Melrose H.S. / Cordova, Tenn.) dropped 9-of-15 field goal attempts and finished with a game 19 points, while Quinn Cook (DeMatha H.S. / Bowie, Md.) and Anthony Wroten, Jr. (Garfield H.S. / Seattle, Wash.) tallied 13 points each, and Michael Gilchrist (St. Patrick H.S. / Somerdale, N.J.) contributed 12 points and a game best eight rebounds.
“I liked our toughness. I thought our post players, Andre’ Drummond and Johnny O’Bryant played really well. Then you get Tony Wroten and Marquis Teague coming in off the bench, they were game difference makers tonight.Ã‚Â We had a lot of kids step up,” said USA U17 World Championship Team and Mid-Prairie High School (Iowa) head coach Don Showalter.
“You take Brad Beal out of the game, he had four fouls, and then Marquis didn’t play a lot in the fourth quarter because of four fouls, but we still played really well without those guys.Ã‚Â I liked our minutes off the bench; I liked our contributions from those guys.”
In addition to being high scorer in Tuesday’s game, Thomas was selected by the tournament organizers as the USA’s MVP of the two games in Lithuania. “Adonis was so consistent in both games.Ã‚Â You can tell he has played the international game a little bit before, he kind of does things that a lot of people don’t notice especially around the rebound area and getting loose balls,” commented Showalter.
Lithuania relied on an 8-0 run midway through the opening quarter to grab the lead 19-9, then closed out the quarter with an 8-3 scoring spree to take a 29-22 lead after the first 10 minutes.
Thomas helped the U.S. climb back into the game and accounted for four points and Brad Beal (Chaminade College Prep H.S. / St. Louis, Mo.) scored three as the closed the gap to 30-29. Falling back behind 36-31, the U.S. put an impressive game deciding run together.Ã‚Â Outscoring the host Lithuanians 16-6 over the second quarter’s final 4:37, Gilchrist pumped in eight points during the surge.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LastÃ‚Â year Kentucky coach John Calipari had to adjust to having a team that featured three front-court players Ã¢â‚¬â€ DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton Ã¢â‚¬â€ who were first-round NBA draft picks.
Now the UK coach is going to have what will be a more traditional guard-driven lineup for him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“At times we might play four guards and a big,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Calipari Monday on the Southeastern Conference teleconference. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We can do that because our guards are big. You can get away with it if you have big guards.
More like Memphis
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think we will play a little more like we played at Memphis with the dribble-drive (offense) and more spacing on the court. But until I get the team together, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just conjecture what I see from this point.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He says incoming freshman Doron Lamb could play point guard, shooting guard or small forward and that he likely will be the backup point guard to freshman Brandon Knight.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I may play him like we did John (Wall) and Eric (Bledsoe). The greatest thing about the dribble-drive is that the position does not matter,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The four perimeter positions are all the same. It doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter if you are right, left or behind the ball. They are all the same.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The more you can play with playmakers, and Darius (Miller) is a good playmaker, the better you are. If all three (Knight, Lamb and Miller) are on the floor, that is powerful,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then you have a guard forward in (freshman forward) Terrence Jones, who could be a playmaking guard. That really makes you go.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see shooting as being a particular problem this year. It was UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inability to make 3-point shots against West Virginia when it missed 20 3-pointers before making one that led to the CatsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ elimination in the Elite Eight game last season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think we will have guys that can make shots,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari knows he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have an experienced team used to dealing with late-season NCAA pressure just like he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t last year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The lesson at the end of the day is you can win a lot of games and win leagues, but those last three games (in the NCAA Tournament) with a young team and the anxiety of never being in a Final four, not knowing how it will play out or going 0-for-20 … ? If they had been with me three seasons, there would likely have been a game or two where we started 0-for-20 and won,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“With a young team, you do what gives you the best chance to win.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Players give us a chance to win national titles. We are about kids getting better and I have to learn how to finish off a season with a really young team. Only the 1948 team won more games (than last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team). We did everything short of (winning) those last couple of games. But if the rules donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t change, we will have a young team about every year I coach.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Last year the Wildcats had junior Patrick Patterson to lead the freshmen. He was a preseason All-American, proven player on the court and natural leader off the court.
This season UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most experienced players are juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. Neither has had the past success Patterson had going into a season that will have at least seven new players on the Kentucky roster.
Calipari says he is looking for Ã¢â‚¬Å“service leadershipÃ¢â‚¬Â and not just lip service where older players ask younger players to get things for them.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We do not need that here. We need them to challenge players to get better and then they challenge you to get better so you have an opportunity to get your dream,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
He wants players to understand as Patterson did that playing less and scoring less on a better team can be better for them, too.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I understand parents want you to play 40 minutes and score 30 points. But we do not have that here,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to be strong enough to withstand all the chatter.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Last year was the first time Darius played for me and played that way. Now all of a sudden you put him in the second year with me and I think he will respond.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari says the three-game exhibition trip to Canada Ã¢â‚¬â€ and 10 practices that are allowed before the trip Ã¢â‚¬â€ will help Ã¢â‚¬Å“figure out who is who and what is whatÃ¢â‚¬Â on next yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team.
However, he says he definitely learned one thing from last year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The biggest thing is that they have to be good people who respect each other and want each other to do well,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You cannot come to Kentucky if you want to be the only guy. There will be eight or nine on the same mission as you and have got to be there for each other. If one guy has a great two or three weeks, you have to be happy for him. If he slips, you have to be there to pick him up and tell him it will be okay.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By LARRY VAUGHT
Maybe the threat of rain kept some potential participants away. Maybe the vacation season had others that would have liked to have been there out of town.
However, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worry. He was too happy to see about 100 youngsters who did show up for his GAM3DAY READY clinic at Millennium Park here Monday to worry about anything else.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“These have been a lot of fun,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the first-year UK head coach, who has already done clinics in Hyden and Central City and has one scheduled in Louisville tonight. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It has been so much fun that we are going to add one in what I consider sacred grounds in Franklin, Ky., my hometown.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But it has been a joy because of how appreciative the people are in the towns we come into. When you say take one of these Operation Win bands, the kids light up. That means the world to me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the Kentuckian in Phillips. He canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help himself when it comes to the Wildcats, much like former UK basketball coach Joe Hall, another Kentucky native, couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. Phillips may truly bleed blue, and when he gets a chance to share his vision about UK football with youngsters and their parents, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to do it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is not about just football. This is about trying to create awareness in people to get out and do things and to be healthy and eat right. Also make sure they are doing what they need to do in the classroom,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said.
Yet Phillips seem to be thoroughly enjoy himself as he watched youngsters Ã¢â‚¬â€ both boys and girls Ã¢â‚¬â€ test their skills in running, jumping and throwing much like athletes would at a college level combine. He went from station to station encouraging youngsters, and stopping to talk to many parents who wanted to just wish him good luck or say hello.
Phillips is one of the Big Blue. He grew up wanting to play for Kentucky just as youngsters like Jacob Tamme did. He went to Kentucky, had a successful career and started his coaching career there. When he came back to UK to work under then coach Rich Brooks, he believed the Wildcats could have a competitive program and helped Brooks lead the Cats to the promised land Ã¢â‚¬â€ four straight bowl bids.
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s part of UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s marketing plan. Each camp participant got a T-shirt, water bottle jump rope and UK bag. They also got a chance to get the head coachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s autograph or have a picture taken with him.
Not only was everything free, but UK athletics also left behind a $15,000 donation that will be used to install new playground equipment Ã¢â‚¬â€ with a Kentucky logo and plaque commemorating UK footballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s generous donation.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This equipment may not last the rest of your lives, but it will last the rest of mine,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips told the youngsters. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My life will not last that long, especially if I am not winning games.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He was joking Ã¢â‚¬â€ sort of.
Phillips knows a 2-10 campaign would quickly end his Big Blue honeymoon. However, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s committed to taking this program to even greater heights and refuses to believe skeptics who say it canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be done.
Heck, he even refuses to listen to his own advice. Remember when he said as aÃ‚Â head coach he had to learn to say no. Yet here he is during his vacation time doing these clinics while all his assistant coaches are enjoying needed time off.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There are a lot of things we need to do. We have said no to a lot of things, but these things we are doing we need to do to get our message out there about Operation Win,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That is what we are trying to do. We are trying to get our UK football brand and the Joker Phillips brand out there. Some things you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say no to and this is one of those.Ã¢â‚¬Â
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s either the blessing, or curse, of being a native Kentuckian who may at times think more with his heart than his head when it comes to UK much like Hall always did when he took his team on barnstorming tours across the state Ã¢â‚¬â€ since outlawed by the NCAA Ã¢â‚¬â€ and always made his players available to speak.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t consider it a curse. It is a blessing for me to give back to the state I love. We want it to go the right way,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is definitely a dream come true for me to give back to this state. If I was coaching in another state, it would probably be a little different on saying no. I want this community to embrace what is going on here because we feel that some good things are going on.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I came here (to Kentucky) in 1981 to try and change the perception about the university that African-Americans could not have success here and you couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t win here in football. We think we are changing those perceptions, especially with us having three African-American head coaches (Charlie Strong of Louisville and Willie Taggert of Western Kentucky) in this state now. If that can happen, why canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Kentucky win the SEC?Ã¢â‚¬Â