Thursday, March 25, 2010

Clinging to an Ivy climber

Need any more motivation to root the Cats on tonight in their NCAA Sweet Sixteen game versus Cornell? Read what this Boston Globe sports columnist had to say about the Kentucky program, its players, Coach Calipari, Coach Rupp, and Ashley Judd.
"You can have Kentucky. You can take Ashley Judd, Adolph Rupp, Sam Bowie, Pat Riley, Coach Cal, Refuse to Lose, the one-and-done freshmen bound for the NBA, and all the bags of cash needed to make the Wildcats run.
I’ll take Cornell and the Ivy League, which has long been a joke in college basketball.
Cornell plays Kentucky at Syracuse tomorrow night, presenting Basketball America with the ultimate clash of hoop cultures.
It’s a 12 seed against a top seed, but that’s only the beginning. It’s a team from a league that is routinely mocked against a team that represents college basketball royalty. It’s a team with a bunch of seniors getting ready to enter a tough job market against a team with a bunch of freshmen bound for the NBA lottery.
Northern Iowa and Saint Mary’s are legitimate Cinderella stories of March Madness 2010, but nothing beats the Big Red theme.
Ivy League vs. SEC? It’s the sweetest of the Sweet Sixteen.
Bill Bradley (Princeton) is the most famous basketball player in Ivy League history. In between his Rhodes Scholarship days at Oxford and a lengthy stint in the United States Senate, Bradley won two NBA championships with the Knicks.
Celtics assistant coach Armond Hill, Brian Taylor, and 1970 Co-Rookie of the Year Geoff Petrie are other Princeton guys who excelled in the NBA. Penn gave the league Corky Calhoun, Phil Hankinson, and Bob Bigelow. Columbia contributed Jim McMillian and Dave Newmark. Rudy LaRusso was a star at Dartmouth. Accordion-playing guard Tony Lavelli, a Yalie, was the Celtics’ first round pick in 1949.
A lot of Ivy League ballers went on to fame in other fields. Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino was a sub on the Princeton team with Bradley. Columbia had a nifty guard named Chet Forte who became a big cheese in sports television. Dave Gavitt, the man who invented the Big East and later ran the Celtics, played with LaRusso at Dartmouth. Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby played at Dartmouth, as did Mass. Bay coach Billy Raynor. CBS’s James Brown was a captain at Harvard, as was Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education. Providence Journal sportswriter/author Billy Reynolds shot the lights out for Brown.
Some of those guys are no longer with us, but trust me when I tell you that the rest will be rooting for Cornell to upset the Wildcats tomorrow night.
It’s not too much of a stretch to think the Big Red will be able to give Kentucky a game. Cornell is 29-4 this season, 88-32 in the last four years, including 38-4 in the Ivy League.
Cornell is the first Ivy team to reach the Sweet Sixteen in 31 years (in 1979, Penn lost to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team). After going 17 years without a win against a nationally ranked team, and 4-63 lifetime against top 25 teams, the Big Red last weekend beat a pair of nationally ranked teams by scores of 78-65 (Temple) and 87-69 (Wisconsin). Coach Steve Donahue got his guys ready during the regular season by scheduling games at Syracuse (88-73 loss) and Kansas (71-66 loss).
Donahue is a onetime high school junior varsity coach who has five kids. Kentucky is coached by the one and only John Calipari, a man with more vacancies than the Bates Motel. You can see Coach Cal on those DirecTV commercials, but you’ve never seen him in old Final Four footage because, technically speaking, he’s never been there. Cal’s magic rides with UMass (1996) and Memphis (2008) were both erased by the NCAA.
The contrasts could not be more striking. Cornell spends less than $1 million on basketball and gets it done without athletic scholarships. Kentucky’s men’s basketball budget is $8.6 million — and that’s only counting sanctioned money. The rest is invisible and inestimable. Wonder what they’ll get Cal on this time.
Kentucky has won seven national championships, appeared in 51 NCAA Tournaments, and won 102 March Madness games. The Big Red have made the tourney five times and the only two wins were recorded last weekend.
The Wildcats have guard John Wall, who might be the best player in the country. They also have DeMarcus Cousins (6 feet 11 inches, 270 pounds), who sometimes looks like a young Wilt Chamberlain. Cornell seniors Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman (son of Randy Wittman) are high-profile scorers, and the Big Red have a couple of mastodons in 7-foot Jeff Foote and Alex Tyler (6-7, 235).
The Big Red also have 6-9 sub Mark Coury, who transferred to the Ivy League after starting 29 games for Kentucky as a sophomore. Had he stayed in Lexington, odds are Calipari would have run him out of the program.
Coury is a 4.0 student, which makes him a nice fit alongside freshman Eitan Chemerinski, who has been known to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under three minutes.
The Big Red have history on their side. In December of 1966, in the only basketball meeting of these schools, Cornell went to Kentucky and defeated Rupp’s Wildcats (NCAA runners-up in the spring of ’66) by a score of 92-77. Some folks in Lexington still haven’t recovered from that one.
Here’s hoping Calipari and his guys take the apple in this one. Then we can tell them that Dr. Henry Heimlich is a Cornell man."
Credits: This article was written by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.

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