|Kentucky, Louisville fans staying true blue|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 21 August 2009 10:43|
On the day that John Calipari's former team, Memphis, was stripped of its 2008 Final Four appearance for using an ineligible player, the new Kentucky coach stepped to a microphone at the state fair and got his typical reception: a standing ovation.
A week after Rick Pitino's public apology for a sexual encounter six years ago with a woman who was not his wife, the immediate furor has passed and calls for the Louisville coach to resign - what few there were - have been treated like a trip to the NIT: immediately forgotten.
In a state where the word ``fervor'' doesn't quite capture the feeling toward basketball - Centre College in Danville has even offered a course called ``Basketball as Religion'' - fans of both programs are standing behind their respective coaches.
Is it loyalty? Compassion? Blind faith?
Maybe it's all three.
t coaches, they're icons.
``They're part of (fans') every day,'' basketball commentator Dick Vitale said. ``They become part of their life and part of their whole scene. In a case where they happen to think of the world of their coach, they're going to forgive, especially if they apologize.''
That's right, agreed Jan Ulbert while sipping from a Louisville mug outside a local coffee shop on Friday morning.
``Everybody deserves a second chance,'' she said. ``People make mistakes. Our coach made a mistake. He's done a lot for the school, a lot for Louisville.''
Ulbert paused for a second then added with a small laugh, ``Besides, we need him to beat them.''
``Them'' being Kentucky, where a portion of the school's fan base still hasn't forgiven Pitino for leaving the program 12 years ago to coach the Boston Celtics before rejoining the college ranks - with the hated Cardinals.
Yet even in Lexington the anger at Pitino's self-described ``indiscretion'' has been muted.
A visitor at a Roman Catholic church Pitino attended while coaching the Wildcats said last weekend that Pitino should ``absolutely'' keep his job even though the coach acknowledged giving the woman $3,000 after she said she was pregnant and was getting an abortion but didn't have health insurance. Pitino's lawyer, Steve Pence, has insisted the money was for insurance and Pitino never paid for an abortion.
Kentucky fans may have taken in Pitino's embarrassing misstep was likely snuffed out when the NCAA ordered Memphis to vacate its record-setting 2007-08 season because a player believed to be NBA star Derrick Rose was accused of having another person take his SAT exam.
Even as members of the national media took aim at Calipari - who was not accused of wrongdoing in the report - Gov. Steve Beshear and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, a former star for the Wildcats, remained confident that the trouble at Memphis wouldn't follow Calipari northeast to the home of college basketball's winningest program.
``He's not been named in anything,'' Farmer said. ``Until he is, then I think that they will address that or the powers that be will address that at the appropriate time. But we don't have any problem whatsoever and we're excited about getting started.''
Calipari has become something of a cultural phenomenon since signing his eight-year, $31.65 million deal to replace Billy Gillispie and lead Kentucky back to national prominence.
Consider this: Calipari already has 614,000 followers on Twitter. His Facebook fan page has 52,000 members. The ``Fire John Calipari'' page has just 17, and the page's creator admits at the top that the topic is just an ``inside joke.''
s before the NCAA released its report on Memphis.
Calipari then launched into a 10-minute speech that was equal parts standup comedy and motivational speech, one that even tweaked the passion of the fan base so eager to embrace his success.
During his talk, Calipari told a story he'd heard about a Kentucky fan who walked into Rupp Arena before a big game and found an open seat near the floor.
The fan sat down and started talking to an older man sitting next to him. The older man explained it was the first game he had attended in 50 years without his wife, who had recently passed away. When the fan asked why another member of the his family didn't take the seat, the man replied, ``Oh, they're at the funeral.''
It got a big laugh. It always does.
For fans of a program rocked by scandal 20 years ago, when a package filled with cash from a Kentucky assistant to high school star Chris Mills was discovered, there doesn't seem to be much concern that the problems which popped up at Calipari's previous stops will reappear in Lexington.
``I don't know that we're too loyal,'' said UK fan Jeff Brannon. ``I just think we see the energy and the players he's brought to the program and he deserves the benefit of the doubt.''