As you can imagine, the big news in the sporting world concerning the UK men's basketball program is Mitch Barnhhart's comments yesterday which were apparently intended to revise and extend his comments of a couple of weeks ago.
This statement understandably generated a lot of media interest, far more than his original equivocation. Perhaps this is so due to the fact that Barnhart's most recent comment seems far less ambiguous than his comments two weeks ago, but the "Tubby Smith is on the hot seat" story has grown gradually rather than burst upon the media's consciousness.
Most of the media outlets are reporting that Barnhart has essentially assured everyone that Smith will be back next season, and I agree that substantively, that's the impression Barnhart meant to leave. But we do have other opinions, and it will be those that this post focuses on.
Rick Bozich with the Courier-Journal gets busy reading between the lines, and reminds us of what Barnhart did not say:
But if Smith isn't willing to work with his boss and make necessary changes to his staff, Barnhart will make the changes for Smith. I applaud Barnhart for that.
Bozich is emphasizing a meme that has been working around the MSM and UK boards for a while now, essentially that Smith was asked to make staff changes last year and refused to do so. As far as I have been able to determine, there are no credible reports that this is actually true, although it is certainly not an illogical or unreasonable conclusion. But Bozich decides to state it as a fact (unsourced, of course):
This is a delicate time to talk about Smith's future. He is trying to outwork Maryland, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma for point guard Jai Lucas and convince forward Patrick Patterson to sign with UK instead of Florida, Duke or Virginia.
If anyone can point me to a reliable, sourced report that the Barnhart/Smith discussion actually happened as Bozich says, I would like to see it so I can feel better about Bozich's journalistic integrity.
But Bozich gets the second part right. There is little doubt that our two prized recruits have taken note of the media storm centered in Lexington, and if Smith truly is the primary reason both are considering UK as they have said, this spectacle cannot be making them warm and fuzzy about picking Kentucky.
The New York Post sees Barnhart's statement as tepid support, at best:
Barnhart, however, stopped short of saying the coach would remain in charge of the Wildcats (21-11), who play Villanova Friday in the NCAA Tournament.
OK, Question both to Bozich and to the New York Post: What can this exchange between a reporter and Barnhart mean?:
Fellas, "No" isn't an equivocation. It just isn't. There aren't any lines to read between there. There was no shooter behind the grassy knoll.
But Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader tells us that he may have seen the glint off what could have been a a rifle scope behind that grassy knoll, after all:
"His hope and his goal and his interest is trying to help all his coaches be successful," Stricklin said of Barnhart. "Obviously, Tubby is his basketball coach right now, and he wants to see him be successful."
Wait - did I miss something here? Are these really words "cautioning us" against "conclusions"? You tell me. Maybe I don't speak spin as well as others.
Finally, we have Nathan Hutchinson, the sports editor of the Richmond Register and well-known member of the Legion of Doom, blasting Barnhart's statement as a flip-flop:
If anything, fans have even more reasons to be pessimistic now then when Barnhart issued that original unprovoked statement.
So, it's hard to understand Mitch's motive for his dramatic flip-flop.
And unfortunately, his confusing and convoluted explanations don't give us any additional insight into his mindset.
I don't know, Nate. Looked pretty clear to me, at least for this year.
But even though Nate may be forced to acquiesce to the inevitable, he knows that he doesn't have to do it without taking a shot a Barnhart:
At least for now.
You never know, he may change his opinion once again.
Hope springs eternal in the breast of the Legion, but for now, the hopes raised by Barnhart's earlier lack of clarity have been dashed on the rocks of "No". Unforgiving word, "No".