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By LARRY VAUGHT
If you are a Kentucky football or basketball fan, you likely know WLEX-TV (Channel 18) sports anchor Mary Jo Perino. She’s been a smiling face that openly roots for the Big Blue but yet comes across as knowledgeable and fair and not a homer.
Soon she’ll be leaving her job to pursue other opportunities that will make it easier for her to spend time with her 7-year-old son. Our loss is her gain and her son’s gain and how could you not be happy for her.
Still, after watching her for 10 years at WLEX (2002 to 2006 and then from 2007 until now after a brief stint in Atlanta), it’s not going to be quite the same without her.
Just ask Alan Cutler, the sports director at WLEX. He’s worked all 10 years with Perino and their Friday night high school football show was must-see TV because of the way they interacted. So what will he miss most once she’s gone?
“It’s not one story, it’s the one liners that go up and back. MJP is a closer. She’s great at making a comment that you can’t answer back because it’s on the edge. It’s funny and she knows I can’t respond because the response won’t be politically correct. And she knows exactly what she’s doing,” Cutler said.
She also worked with Ryan Lemond, now a co-host on the syndicated Kentucky Sports Radio weekday morning sports talk show, at Channel 18.
“Mary Jo is one of the my favorite co-workers of all time. It was always a joy to come to work when Mary Jo was there,” Lemond said. “Her desk was directly behind my desk, so it was always a treat for me to have a co-worker that was not only very, very talented, but also a very, very good friend.
“I’m so proud of her. I kind of feel like a ‘big brother’ to her at times, and I’ve just been very proud to see her grow as a broadcaster, a friend and as a mother.”
Tom Leach, the radio voice of the Kentucky Wildcats, has been a Perino fan, too.
“Coaches always want energy from their players and that’s what Mary Jo has always brought to the UK sports scene, plus that wonderful smile. Hope we’ll see her in the crowd even though we won’t see her on press row,” Leach said.
WLAP Sunday Morning Sports host Mark Buerger has a different type best memory of Perino.
“I’ve been at my real job at Special Olympics for 11 State Summer Games events. Mary Jo has emceed the Opening Ceremonies at four of them. Every time I have asked, Mary Jo has made the trek to Richmond immediately after getting off the air to be a part of the event (which starts at 7 p.m. every year),” Buerger said. “She made it when they were doing construction on the Clays Ferry Bridge. She made it the day Jon Cohen announced he was leaving Kentucky for Mississippi State. And she made it the year I tried to give her a year off, but I had a late cancellation and called her a couple of days before the event.
“And every time she was there she took those Ceremonies just as seriously as she did a broadcast, was an absolute pro and was a big part of producing a great event for the more than 1,300 Special Olympics athletes who compete at the Games every year. We’ll miss having her there!”
But it wasn’t just those who knew Perino well who loved the way she did her job and will miss her as those of use in the media will. Just ask Theresa Salyer.
“We like that she is so personable, enthusiastic and easy to look at, in other words really good looking. She is so passionate about our Cats and you can tell she loves what she is doing,” Salyer said. “She is also very fair in her reporting about UK sports. She is great at the Derby and has taken to the Bluegrass state and loves our state like a native.
“Meeting her personally at the Kentucky Ohio Convention and then having her remember who I was two years later was special. I took our son, who is a great Mary Jo fan, to met her this year at the SEC Tournament and she was friendly and seemed to enjoy meeting any Cat fan.
“I love her smile, voice, just everything about her and she will be sorely missed by a lot of people. I would love to see her get back into the sports scene somehow or way. She has a lot of knowledge about a variety of sports and gives a fair report.”
Indeed she did and I’ll dearly miss seeing her not only at UK games, but at high school sports events. She was just as passionate about prep sports, and I loved that about her. Her smile could always brighten your day and on air she could always make you feel like she was talking directly to you. And athletes loved talking to her and it showed in the interviews she got on a regular basis. But mainly I’m going to miss seeing her in a professional capacity simply because she was such a good friend.
What about you? If you have seen her work or met her, let me know what you will remember or miss about Perino.
Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Louisville. They are the better team.”
Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “With so many factors working in its favor, Louisville should win at this point in the season, especially with the homecourt advantage. But I’m also confident Kentucky’s talented freshmen will start to jell as a group and if that starts to happen by Saturday, the Wildcats would have a chance to win a close one.”
Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Louisville. They’re playing much more together than Kentucky is, and a hundred times more sound defensively. The Cards have plenty of motivation this year after what happened in April, and they’re playing at home.”
Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “Kentucky will win because the Cats owns the series and Cal owns Pitino.”
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “Louisville. At home. Play better as a team. Way more experience in games like this.”
Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “I think the Cardinals will win the game. If UK takes care of the ball then they can take it to the wire but if they fold under the pressure then it will be a runaway win for U of L. One thing to keep an eye on, the longer UK hangs around the more the pressure builds for U of L late in the game.”
Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “I am predicting a 50-49 win for U of L. I still don’t think UK has ‘found themselves’ yet, but they are getting closer. I think it’s going to be an ugly game, and the uglier the better for U of L’s chances to finally get a win over Cal’s Cats.”
Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “I think Louisville wins this year on the fact that they have a more experienced team and have a proven outfit. They have shown that they can win on the road and also at home, which also is a plus for the Cards. Kentucky hasn’t proven it can overcome a hostile environment and Louisville will be a much-tougher place to play than Notre Dame. I give the nod to Louisville, 75-64.”
And ESPN analyst Dick Vitale is also predicting a 77-70 Louisville victory.
Question: What are the chances both Kentucky and Louisville could make the Final Four again this year?
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “Somewhere close to zero. I think there’s a decent chance that neither one does. Louisville has trouble scoring from time to time. I think that could ruin them come tournament time. Kentucky just doesn’t look like any kind of threat to get that good by the end of the season. I know they didn’t look like a threat two years ago at this time, but for some reason I don’t see this team making the kind of strides that team made.”
Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “There’s a good chance because both teams are talented and well-coached.”
Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “I would think Louisville’s chances are very good–veteran team with Final Four experience, likelihood of a top two seeding. This Kentucky team will likely be in a similar position to the one two years ago, where some early setbacks left them with a number four seed so they would probably have to beat two or three higher seeds to make it to Atlanta. Logically, their prospects of making three Final Fours in a row would not be as bright–but that group two years ago should have taught us not to write this team off yet.”
Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “Louisville has better odds, than Kentucky. The Cardinals have a chip on their shoulder after last year’s loss to Kentucky in the Final Four and wants to prove they belong among the top four teams in the nation this year. Barring a total meltdown in the Big East, the Cardinals likely will open the NCAA Tournament at Rupp Arena and have an easier road to the Georgia Dome than UK at this point. In order to improve its chances, Kentucky needs to climb back into the Top 25 and compete flawlessly in the SEC. The room for error is a small one.”
Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “It’s so tough to get there for any team. I give Louisville the better chance. They’ve got guys who have been there before. It will be much tougher for UK to get there.”
Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ I think U of L’s Final Four run last year was kind of a fluke. They really weren’t very good at the end of the season last year (remember the 35 blowout loss to Providence), but they got ‘hot’ at the right time and made a good run. This year there is no denying that they are pretty good. With Dieng they are a Final Four caliber team, but they don’t have that outside scoring threat this year. So I am predicting Louisville will not make the Final Four.
“I also can’t predict a Final Four for UK. There are just too many red flags here at the midway point of the season for me to think they can make a Final Four run. I think they will have a great SEC run this year because the SEC is really down, and I think UK is going to only get better and better.
“If I had to lay odds in Vegas on either team reaching the Final Four, I would say: UK 55 percent and U of L 70 percent.”
Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Louisville has a great chance to go far in the tournament this year, barring any season-ending injuries that just seem to have happened to the Cards over the last few years. I’ll be expecting them in the Final Four. Kentucky undoubtedly has the raw talent to make it to the Final Four again, but it all depends on how Calipari continues to develop this team mentally, as well as Ryan Harrow’s continued improvement.”
Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “There’s a far better chance that neither team makes it than both teams making it. Strangely, these two programs , as good as they are, are rarely title worthy at the same time. They’ve been to the final four at the same time only twice since 1975.”
Next: Who will win the game?
Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “ Louisville. They’re going to be favored and with such a big experience edge and the homecourt, they have more things working in their favor than at any other time in Cal’s time at Kentucky.”
Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “If Pitino can’t beat Calipari Saturday then U of L fans will have to wonder if he ever will. Rick is 0-4 against Cal and 2-7 in the last 9 games against Kentucky. Plus, he’s not likely to win next either with the game at Rupp and Cal poised to bring in the best class ever That means the pressure is all on the Cardinals.”
Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ No doubt it’s Louisville. They’ve lost four in a row to their arch-nemesis and arch-rival. They lost two games to them last year. They lost in the Final Four to them last season. They lost two years ago at the YUM Center to UK when it was supposed to be the big ‘christening’ of their new home. It’s Pitino’s old school. It’s Pitino’s old protege. Everything about this game puts all the pressure on U of L, but the biggest reason has to be that if Pitino doesn’t win this one, he may never beat Calipari at UK. UK is going to stay at top caliber team. U of L may never have this talent level again … ever.”
Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “ Louisville.”
Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Louisville, no doubt. They’ve lost to Cal three straight years and are supposed to be the much better team. Pitino can’t lose this game.”
Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Kentucky. Coming off a national championship and a Final Four win against Louisville, the Cats are still seen as being the top dogs and expected by UK fans to beat Louisville (always). Louisville has almost flown under the radar this year, even with their national ranking. Kentucky has much more to prove this time around, especially after they fell out of the top 25.”
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “I’ll say Louisville, but only because everybody expects them to win. Kentucky needs this game to prove it can beat somebody good.”
Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “Louisville has more to lose since the Cardinals are having what has been a banner season so far. A loss would drop Louisville in the polls, while a win for Kentucky would land the Cats back into the Top 25 going into the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule. Kentucky hasn’t fared well on the road this year and a victory at Louisville would give the young squad confidence going into the SEC. Louisville has lost four in a row to the Wildcats, including twice last year.”
Next: What are the chances both teams could reach the Final Four again this year?
With Louisville and Kentucky renewing their rivalry Saturday in Louisville, oddsmakers agree that this is the year Rick Pitino’s Cardinals finally beat John Calipari. Since arriving at UK, Calipari is 4-0 against Louisville, including a win in the Final Four last year when the Cats won the national championship. However, this year No. 4 Louisville is a solid favorite over unranked Kentucky, which has already lost to Duke, Baylor and Notre Dame. Three previous times in this series when Louisville was ranked this highly and UK was unranked, the Cardinals won each time.
Various media members who cover Kentucky basketball regularly shared their thoughts and insights on the game.
Question: Who will be the best player on the court for the UK-Louisville game?
Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “The best player on the court will be Louisville guard Russ Smith. Ten games into the season, Smith was averaging 20.2 points per game. Containing Smith will be a key for Kentucky to have a chance to beat the Cardinals at the KFC Yum!Center.”
Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Peyton Siva will be the best player on the court, but I believe Nerlens Noel has the best potential.”
Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “Often, in this game, the star player is someone we would not have forseen — think Josh Harrellson two years ago. If Kentucky wins, I’m thinking it will be Alex Poythress. If Louisville does indeed lack its primary shot blocker, Poythress could be hard to handle in the lane, if he brings his ‘A’ game.”
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “I don’t think there’s ever been a harder year to answer this question. Logic says Siva, but he’s always prone to one of those two-assist, six-turnover games he has occasionally. Last time we saw Alex Poythress against a big-name opponent, he was probably the best player on the court. Will that Alex come back? So I’ll go with Russ Smith.”
Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ I think the best player on the floor will be Nerlens Noel, especially if Giorgi Dieng doesn’t play for U of L. I think Noel just keeps getting better and better each time out. He’s already played pretty well against some other big guys this year — Plumley at Duke, Cooley at Notre Dame and Maryland’s big guy. Just as the U of L game was Josh Harrellson’s coming out party two years ago at the YUM Center, it’s going to be Noel’s turn this year to show the world why he’s considered one of the top two picks in the NBA draft this year.”
Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “Archie Goodwin.”
Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “I’m not sure if he’ll be the best player on the floor but I think Ryan Harrow will be the most important player on the floor. Kentucky simply cannot turn the ball over. If UK takes care of the basketball, it will create scoring opportunities for the Cats and that will limit easy opportunities for the Cardinals, who struggle to put the ball in the basket.”
Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Nerlens Noel might be the most natural talent on the court, but Russ Smith has also been playing great lately and is sure to provide some matchup issues for Kentucky.”
Coming next: Which team has the most pressure on it Saturday?
Audio: Blue Zoom Radio Show for Oct. 4, host Larry Vaught, co-host David Hopewell and guest Tom Leach