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By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s always a little humbling to attend the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) awards ceremony in Salisbury, N.C., and see all the talented folks from across the country who win awards.
However, this year’s three-day event was a lot of fun for me for one reason — there was so much Cat chat. That’s right, it seems like every function I ran into someone who wanted to talk about University of Kentucky sports.
It started the first night when I had dinner with Lance Allan, the Wisconsin sportscaster of the year who just happens to cover the Green Bay Packers. As soon as he found out I was from Kentucky, talk immediately turned to Green Bay second-year receiver Randall Cobb of UK.
“I expect to see a lot bigger role for Randall Cobb this year and a lot more balls coming his way. It took time last year because of the lockout for (quarterback) Aaron Rodgers to get comfortable with him, but that’s going to change this year,” said Allan.
He raved not only about Cobb’s playmaking skills, but how great he was in the community and with teammates.
The second night I had dinner with NSSA Hall of Famer Bob Ryan, a columnist for the Boston Globe who has covered both Rick Pitino and John Calipari. Immediately conversation turned to the Kentucky-Indiana basketball series being discontinued and how Ryan could not understand how Calipari allowed the series to end, especially after losing at Indiana last season and knowing Indiana would have a top five team this season.
“I am just not sure why John does not get that nationally his reasons for not playing won’t cut it,” Ryan said.
He also added that he thought Anthony Davis’ rise from basically an unknown high school junior basketball player to the top pick in the NBA draft after a dominating freshman season “is one of the biggest stories in years” and one that has not been reported enough.
But what Ryan talked the most about with me was former UK star Rajon Rondo, now the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics. He called him the “most unique player” he has seen play and how if he continues to develop his jump shot and take and make shots, he will be as good or better than any point guard in the NBA, including Chris Paul. Ryan also explained how Rondo became more of a face for the franchise during the season and while reserved with the media, seemed to handle the role better.
Bob Harris, the North Carolina sportscaster of year, does play-by-play for Duke basketball and football. He comes to Lexington every June for the Children’s Charity Classic (golf tournament) because of his friendship with Doug Flynn However, he knows UK fans have no love for Duke after the infamous 1992 NCAA classic when Christian Laettner not only hit the game-winning shot, but also stomped on Aminu Timberlake. Harris also called the 1978 NCAA title game when UK beat Duke.
“(Jack) Goose Givens lit up Duke for 41 points that game in a performance I’ll never forget,” Harris said. “I remember that probably as much as UK fans do that Laettner shot, and I know UK fans must hate hearing my call of that play over and over during the promo for the NCAA Tournament.”
Bob Wisener, the Arkansas sportswriter of the year, couldn’t wait to talk about incoming UK freshman Archie Goodwin, the best high school basketball player in Arkansas last season. Wisener called Goodwin a “great kid” as well as a terrific player that he thinks will be a “star” and player UK fans love.
“You never hear anything but good things about him as a player or person from anyone in Arkansas,” Wisener said.
Finally, it was terrific to see ESPN college basketball analysts Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas both come to Salisbury to support Dan Shulman of ESPN, the national sportscaster of the year. Both talked about how much they enjoyed watching Kentucky’s national championship team play and the respect they had for the way the Wildcats played and won. Both also couldn’t help wondering if winning a title would increase or decrease the pressure on Calipari from the UK fan base.
I also have to admit it was also a treat to spend time talking to Bilas’ wife, Wendy, a respected North Carolina artist. She’s as charming, insightful as her husband and also had a UK connection to talk about since her husband’s niece is dating former UK basketball player Mark Krebs. She now lives in Louisville and is not a huge basketball/sports fan.
“But that might be a good thing when you live in Louisville and date a former Kentucky player,” Wendy Bilas joked.
However, the best Cat chat came from Salisbury residents Capri Brixley and Katie Lipscomb. Brixley is a UK graduate and Wildcat fan while Lipscomb is a die-hard North Carolina fan. But they agreed every UK and North Carolina fan had to like the book “Duke Sucks: A Completely Evenhanded, Unbiased Investigation into the Most Evil Team on Planet Earth.”
No way I can really do their description of the book justice, so check vaughtsviews.com Thursday afternoon for a video with them discussing the book in the funniest Cat chat of the event.