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By LARRY VAUGHT
HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky’s national championship basketball team is a plus for Kentucky football. Or at least that is the way UK coach Joker Phillips said he viewed it Thursday during the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days.
Kentucky won the national championship in basketball last season after reaching the Final Four the previous year. Phillips’ teams have gone only 6-7 and 5-7 in his first two years as head coach.
“Everybody has things they want to sell in their program. I’m selling our basketball program, okay? I would be crazy to try to fight that. I’m trying to sell our basketball program,” said Phillips. “I think it (basketball’s national title) was unbelievable advertising of our logo. Every time our basketball team went to the next round, playing in the Final Four. How many times did kids see the UK interlocking brand out there? I think that’s huge.
“We want to hitch our wagon to our basketball program. Who doesn’t want to see John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Brandon Knight? Who doesn’t want to see those guys play? All these football players think they’re basketball players. They want to see good basketball. That’s a chance for us to sell, ‘Hey, come watch these guys play.’
“Now we’re able to sell us. We got them on our campus. We’re able to sell that we’ve had 40 guys sign NFL contracts in five years. We’re able to sell we have a streak of five bowl games. We’re able to sell we have great academics. We sell the things that we feel will help us win at Kentucky.”
Phillips noted that UK basketball coach John Calipari has gone out of his way to help football recruiting. Recently UK had a football recruit on campus who also plays basketball and even though Calipari was in Puerto Rico coaching the Dominican Republic national team, he took time to call to talk to the recruit.
“How many coaches would do that five minutes before they’re going out on the court?” Phillips said. “He also does it on our recruiting weekends. Our recruiting weekends, 30 minutes before his basketball team goes out on the basketball court to take the court, we’re able to bring our recruits into his locker room and he addresses them.
“I thought there’s no way this guy is going to allow us to come into his locker room. The first time we done it, it was the North Carolina game, 1 versus 2. He addresses our potential recruits. So he and I have a great working relationship.
“Again, we’re selling. Everything there is to sell about Kentucky, we’re selling to our football recruits. Our basketball program is one of those selling points.”
Having a ninth SEC game each year now that Missouri and Texas A&M have joined the conference would not be a selling point for Phillips, not with Louisville also on the schedule.
“A ninth game, me being at Kentucky, would be opposed to a ninth game. I would be against having a ninth game. That’s me taking care of my program. I think I really like the format that we have right now. Gives us an opportunity. We still play the University of Louisville. Gives us a chance to schedule three other out‑of‑conference games,” Phillips said.
He also brushed aside questions about being on the “hot seat lists” after failing to win a bowl game in 2010 or get UK to a bowl game in 2011.
“I’m not sitting down right now, so there’s nothing hot,” Phillips joked. “I don’t have time to listen to that stuff. All we have time to think about is doing all the productive things in our program that we need to get it back to the level that we want to. I don’t have time to think about those things.
“Again, it’s like negative recruiting. The time that I got to talk about somebody else’s program, I’m losing time when I got to sell the great state of Kentucky and what we have to offer there. It takes away from the time for me to sell our basketball program. It takes away time for me to sell our 40 guys that we’ve had sign in five years. It takes away from me to sell that we have unbelievable, unbelievable fan base that stick with us through thick and thin. I don’t have time to deal with those things either. All I need to do is make sure we’re putting a product on the field that can be successful.”