Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 18, 2014

John Cannon:Unable to root for these Cats:02/19/14

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — WARNING: If you are a die-hard University  of Kentucky men’s basketball team who thinks the Wildcats can do no wrong and whose happiness between December and March each year is largely dependent on how the Wildcats are doing on the basketball court, then read no further because you won’t like what follows.

Try as I might — and I admit that I haven’t much tried — I cannot roots for this year’s Wildcats. I have not watched more than two minutes of any game and don’t know one player from another.

I may root for the 2014-15 Wildcats when most of the current players have departed for the NBA and Coach John Calipari has again recruited what is rated as the best freshmen in the country, but I doubt it. “One and done” just doesn’t do it for me. Beyond making a boatload of money for the University of Kentucky, the success of the UK basketball team does not do much to advance higher education in Kentucky. Most of the talented high school basketball players Calipari has brought to Lexington in recent years don’t give a flip about getting a college education. They are just putting in time until they can go pro and earn huge salaries in the NBA. I expect some of those planning to “go pro” after this season are not even bothering to go to class. After all, why should they care if they fail all their classes and are declared academically ineligible for the first semester of next season?  They weren’t coming back to school anyway.

I don’t blame the players for leaving college after one year. Just like the UK players are, I went to college in hopes of developing my skills so I could earn more money. If someone had offered me a fat salary to join a newspaper’s staff after my freshman year, I would have taken it.

Instead, I spent four years at Morehead State University, earned a bachelor of arts degree and was offered a job at the old Huntington Advertiser for a whopping $75 a week. But despite the temptation of earning a four-figure salary for the first time in my life, I opted to go to graduate school at Ohio University, where the school paid me nearly as much as I would have earned at the Advertiser plus paid for my schooling. In a sense, that makes me just the opposite of today’s UK superstars. Instead of leaving school early to earn a fat paycheck, I stayed in school another year so I could earn $125 a week at the Daily News in Bowling Green. But just like the basketball players who leave school early, I did it for the money.

I became a journalist, because when I was in high school my second cousin, who is about 20 years older than I am, had what I considered the second best job in the world: He covered the Cincinnati Reds for the Dayton Daily News and got to go to every game. The only better  job would be playing for the Reds, but since I was not the best player on my Babe Ruth baseball team, I recognized that I lacked the talent to play professionally. Thus, like my cousin I wanted to write about my favorite team.

Ironically, in 44 years as a professional journalist, I have yet to write my first sports story, and since I soon will be retiring, I probably never will. So be it. I’ve had a good career.

To be honest I’m really not much of a sports fan. I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan. Period. Once the Reds were eliminated after one game in last year’s playoffs, I never watched another baseball game. When the Cincinnati Bengals were eliminated after one game, I ceased watching pro football except for  tiny bit of the Super Bowl.

I have zero interest in the National Basketball Association. So why should I care about the NBA’s top minor league teams which happens to be the UK Wildcats under Coach Calipari?  

Under the Higher Education Reform Act enacted when Paul Patton was governor, UK set a goal of being a Top 20 university by 2020. I think that’s a better goal than having one of the best basketball teams in the country. And while the school in churning out the best basketball players in the country, wouldn’t it be nice to have a few Rhodes Scholars? UK may have the best basketball coach in the country, but how many Nobel Prize winners are on its faculty?

I have one other  confession to make. I grew up 35 miles south of Columbus, Ohio, during the time when Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Mel Nowell were leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to three straight trips to the NCAA finals. A half century later, I guess you could say I still am more of the Buckeye fan than a Wildcat fan, but then I haven’t watched the Bucks play a single minute this year.

I don’t begrudge my friends who regularly root for the Wildcats. It is just that I have found other things to do. But hey, spring training is under way. Go Reds!

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2649.