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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Bob Knight's Slander Has Infected The Media

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We all remember the recent Bob Knight affair where he perpetrated a falsehood about Kentucky's 2009-10 team, saying that none of the five Kentucky players drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft attended class in their spring 2010 semester.  That comment provoked outrage from everywhere in the Big Blue Nation, including this blog.  Knight later issued a non-apology for which I, for one, did not accept.

Comes now this outstanding story from John Stevens at Rush The Court.  He caught a curious phrase from Harvey Araton of the New York Times (yeah, who else?) in an article about Kyrie Irving.

First of all, you should read Stevens' entire piece, as well as the New York Times article in question to ensure that the context you see in the parts I have quoted is both sufficient and accurately representative of the article.  One thing is for sure, though -- somebody involved in that article does not think much of the educational opportunities offered by the University of Kentucky.

This is the offending passage, in context:

Given the prospects of being chosen first, what, he asked, would you do?

"Everybody in my family has gotten our degrees, our master’s," said the elder Irving, a Wall Street financial broker who left a job at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center six months before 9/11. "We value the education aspect of it with Kyrie."

Had they not, Kyrie would have been with John Calipari at Kentucky last season, where the godfather, Strickland, works as an assistant coach. Irving finished his spring semester at Duke and shook his father’s hand on a pact to get his degree within five years.[emphasis mine]

The boldface is the curious part.  Who said this, Drederick Irving (Kyrie's father) or is this a bit of Araton editorializing?

Stevens is unsure of who was doing the dissing:

It isn’t clear in Araton’s piece if it’s the author saying that or if it’s a statement of Drederick Irving’s that Araton didn’t directly quote. We provided the link to the story because you should have the chance to read it for yourself if you want to do so. In our view, though, the only way to take that statement is that at least one of Harvey Araton or Drederick Irving feels that if you don’t "care about the education aspect" of being a student-athlete, then Kentucky is the school for you.

I'm personally unsure as well, but regardless of who it was, this seems to be the latest in a rash of attacks on Kentucky's academics.  I think we can all agree, without rancor, that Duke has a superior academic reputation in most disciplines to UK, but that does not mean that Kentucky is a place where slackers come to take basket-weaving, as the old saw goes.  This is a reinforcement, either by Irving the elder or Araton of Bob Knight's remarks which were so thoroughly debunked.

But that isn't all.  It seems that Len Elmore, a sports media personality that I have always respected, made a similarly impertinent and disrespectful comment about academics at Kentucky today during the ESPN coverage of the NBA Combine.  Elmore was attempting to compliment the fact that Enes Kanter was still studying and doing homework between interviews, and he remarked that such a thing was "unique" at UK.  Say what?  Elmore must not know about Brandon Knight's 4.0.

More from Stevens on the Araton story:

This represents yet another symptom of how, among many followers of college basketball and the media (of both the so-called old and new varieties) that cover the sport, the narrative surrounding John Calipari’s Kentucky program is widely regarded as one of skepticism and presumptive wrongdoing. Calipari is, in the eyes of all media and without any direct evidence whatsoever, guilty until proven…more guilty.

That's the easy conclusion, and I agree that is a significant part of what is at work here.  But I think there is an even more insidious factor involved -- genuine bigotry.  Nobody would mistake Kentucky for MIT, but at the same time, UK is a good school working very hard to become better as an academic institution.  The sort of casual contempt by Elmore and Araton/Irving might as well have read, "Those rednecks down in Kentucky don't care about education, they care about winning basketball games."

Every one of these guys hails from the New York/New Jersey northeastern corridor, a place notoriously unfriendly to Southerners and perceived border-state infidels who had the effrontery to once be classified as part of the Confederacy. I guess Duke gets a pass because of its academic reputation, but UK clearly does not.  In my view, it's just another form of ingrained bias for which Kentuckians as well as others south of the Mason-Dixon  are frequently held to account, while the Northeastern equivalent gets pooh-poohed.

Whether prejudice was a factor or not, I think this sort of condescension ought to be rejected by every fan of basketball, regardless of what you think of Calipari, and even Kentucky.  The fact that none of these people cold be troubled to note that northeastern bastion UConn stands to lose scholarships while Kentucky does not is instructive, as well as the fact that 9 out of the 11 players on UK's team had a 3.0 or better in the fall semester this year.  Yes, Kentucky had a bad year last year, but the turn-around seems not to have been noticed by these oh-so-urbane members of the sports commentariat.

No matter what, I think UK fans are justifiably tired of this.  If Len Elmore has Twitter, I'm sure he is well aware of Big Blue displeasure by now, as well as Araton.  Justifiably so, in my view.