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Defending Kentucky Success: The Billy Reed Sessions

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Former C-J (and other publications) sportswriter Billy Reed is using Facebook to launch a backhanded campaign against UK and their success with the outstanding recruits we have been getting. Seems Reed longs for a return to the old days. He wants education first, basketball second. I wonder if Billy would have written the same way when he was getting paid to write for the C-J?

Two sides of the same coin? I guess Billy Reed does not think so.
Two sides of the same coin? I guess Billy Reed does not think so.

I know that not all of you use Facebook. Sometimes I wonder why I do, then I realize that social media is the wave of the future. It gives us what satellite and cable have not yet done. It lets us pick what we want to know, and tailor our reading towards it. If I could call up DirecTV and tell them that I want this channel, and not that channel, and I don't want 27 music channels I do not listen to, I would do it in a heartbeat. If something shows up in my Facebook feed, I want to read it.

Because of this, I have "friended" a lot of sportswriters. Billy Reed is among them. Most of the time, Billy and I are in agreement concerning issues, so I find that he has things he talks about that I like reading. And then there's sports.

Billy has written about both UK and U of L sports his entire career. He made his living writing about them. He made a good living as a freelance writer on all things Kentucky sports and the surrounding area has to offer. His career accolades are second to none, and he takes perspectives sometimes that I would not have been of a mind to approach. That's what makes for a good reporter/columnist.

About 2 1/2 years ago, Billy stepped out of mainstream sportswriting (or was pushed out, I am not sure which) and took on a job as an editor of a Catholic sports website. They report on and promote schools like Bellarmine College. It seems a noble way to wind down a 50+ year career in journalism. Religion aside, anyone who works to promote universities that educate their kids and produce fresh young minds and bodies into society is okay in my book.

This week however, Billy seems to be on a crusade of sorts, directed straight at John Calipari.

On Billy's Facebook page, he has run a string of provocative questions and comments this week on the success or failure of the "One and Done" approach to recruiting, and how that approach should be beneath The University of Kentucky.

These are the comments from Billy over the last few days:

If they played today, UK's first team (Cauley-Stein, Goodwin, Harrow, Poythress, and Mayes) would be no match for U of L's second team (Harrell, Van Treese, Ware, Hancock, and Price). Just sayin'.

I have followed UK since I was very young. I covered Coach Rupp's last 12 teams for one publication or another. I consider many UK greats to be among my good friends. I co-authored Cawood Ledford's book. I just don't see how anybody who cares about education and our state's image can endorse the way Calipari has turned UK into little more than an NBA development program. I felt that way last year, I feel that way this year, and I'll feel that way next year. UK is the flagship university in a state known for poor education. The basketball team is the flagship university's most visible symbol. It should not be asking too much for UK basketball to emphasize education the way they do at North Carolina, Indiana, Michigan, and other flagship universities.

I'm a fan of the GAME of basketball, and that enables me to enjoy it played well on different levels. For example, Some of my biggest thrills in recent years have come from watching the Bellarmine Knights. But I'm an even bigger fan of education, so it should come as no surprise that I especially enjoy the teams that do the best job of combining the two. My favorite U of L player is Gorgui Dieng, who speaks five languages and will get his degree no matter what. But that's just me. Everyone else is every bit as entitled to decide what's important to them. So if you like what Calipari is doing -- or Pitino or Crean or Brad Stevens -- knock yourself out. It really makes no difference to me. Different strokes and all that. One of my all-time favorite people, Derek Smith, didn't have his degree when he left U of L. But he came back and got it. I'll always remember the photo of Derek in his cap and gown, basketball uniform underneath. I will never apologize for liking good basketball programs, at any level, that are serious about education. If that's "old school," I plead guilty as charged.

Just out of curiosity, how many certain one-and-done players are left in the NCAA tournament? Anybody want to make an educated guess?

I put those in chronological order on purpose. First off, I wanted to be accurate, and second, I wanted to show the pattern. I want to make it clear, this is Billy's Facebook page, and he can write anything he likes, it's a free country. I also realize that his number of "friends" is nowhere near what his readership would have been had these comments been produced in the CJ, or other national publications. Then again, however, Facebook IS a national publication.

Please understand, this is not about animosity towards Billy. I happen to like the guy's stance on a lot of things. I even like his stance on education. I believe that college should be about education first, if that's what you want from it. However, Reed mistakenly attacks education here, as Calipari's players go to class, get good grades, and players have graduated under his tenure as coach. He has the team APR well above standards, and players are even returning to get their degrees since his taking the coaching reigns. It seems as though Calipari's efforts towards that end go without reward.

What I do not believe, is that by using his bully pulpit, Billy is going to accomplish much, other than continue to drive a wedge between UK and UL fans. His discussion gives the impression that UL is doing things the "right" way, while UK is not. Yet, I seem to remember a time when Rick Pitino was one of Billy's favorite targets for criticism in the 1990's. After going to Louisville, Billy placed Pitino on a pedestal which was never removed, even after the Karen Sypher incident.

Why would Reed not embrace the success that Cal has brought to the University? Surely he cannot hope to hide behind the education argument, not with the dropout rate at Louisville just as bad as at UK. Claiming that Michigan, North Carolina (after learning about African Studiesgate, I NEVER want to hear UNC used as a model for education), and others are doing more for education is simply untrue, and that statement is a testimony to the argument that Reed is no longer knowledgeable about his subject material.

When he discusses Coach Rupp's teams of old, does he think that Adolph Rupp would not have used every means within the rulebook to win basketball games? This is nothing more than a different coach, and a different time. Rules change. When the years that Billy is discussing were happening, freshmen were not even allowed to play varsity basketball. Those were the rules in that day.

Reed says he loves the game of basketball, but he loves education more. So why not attack the NBA and their stance on players age being an issue? Why not go directly at the NCAA when they are just as culpable? Calipari was hired to coach basketball the last time I looked, and from where I sit, he appears to be doing exactly that. Not to mention, he is doing it within the rules that the NCAA lays down. What else is to be expected of him?

When he wrote that last line about how many one and done players were left in the tournament, the question was posed in the thread, "How many one and done fans were in the stands watching the tournament?". I guess a better question would have been, "How many one and dones were watching on TV?"

The more important question that should be asked in this case is, "Why must these young men come to college if they don't want to be here?" That answer is much more simple. They probably really would like to be in college. A lot of them end up working toward and finishing their degrees. Nobody wants to talk about that, however. No, that does not make headlines or columns that today's readers want to see. Also, no one wants to discuss the fact that these young men are being handed enough money to care for themselves and their families for a lifetime either. Billions of people play the lottery every week in hopes of hitting the jackpot. So these kids are to blame because they want to be lottery picks for the NBA? Or is it the coach's fault that he wants to win, and is paid millions to do it? This is a societal problem, not a Calipari problem. This is not something you regulate into oblivion, it is something you put in the hands of those who participate. If they want to be in college, so be it. If they don't, that's fine too. If they want to stay one year, three years, or ten, that is also acceptable. Blaming Coach Calipari and his path to success for people not becoming educated, however, is a dog that won't hunt.

Far too many times anger and contempt are misplaced in these discussions. Some of Reed's commenters suffer from a bad case of "Forest Disease." They take Reed's observations and try and turn them into a crusade against everything that is wrong in this world. When the situation swings round again, and a rule change causes some other uproar, what happens when another coach finds the crack in the ceiling and pushes through it?

This issue needs to be put to bed. Blaming coaches for trying to make the best out of what their situation is like blaming the rooster for announcing the dawn. It is a fool's errand, one taken on at the peril of scolding people who are just doing their job. Calipari is paid to recruit the best players he can, and win basketball games by reason of those efforts. He is not paid to solve the problems created for colleges by professional basketball. What's he supposed to do, recruit less talented players because Billy Reed wants them to stay four years? Yeah, that'll happen.

Reed unfortunately comes across as another in the long line of Calipari detractors who cannot come to grips with the past issues to which he is forever linked. Calipari runs a clean program within the rules. He doesn't break them. People around him have done so (as they have for any number of other coaches) and he has done everything required of him to comply with the rules as they exist. Even former coach Billy Clyde Gillispie managed to cause a rule to be changed by NCAA in his short tenure at Kentucky. He didn't break a rule, he followed one. The NCAA didn't like it, so they changed it. If the NCAA does not like the rule which places these kids and their coaches directly in the line of fire of folks like Reed, then they need to change them. Until then, I hope Cal finds dozens more "one-and-dones." I want them all wearing blue and white. I want the best of the best representing UK for as long as they can.