Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | 9:25 a.m.
LEXINGTON, Ky. – I will not be surprised if C.M. Newton sends limousines for Kentucky players tonight to transport them from their dorms or apartments to Memorial Coliseum.
I won’t be surprised if he gives them a pep talk before the game and even massages their feet at halftime of their NIT game against UNLV at Memorial Coliseum.
So far, Newton has catered to and coddled his program, and the entire commonwealth, with his influence.
“Enjoy it and pull them through and get them to New York,” Newton told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The former Wildcats athletic director was the chairman of the NIT selection committee, which just happened to deign Kentucky as a No. 4 seed in the secondary tournament to the NCAAs.
When the NIT committee saw UNLV on its big board Sunday, it must have cranked up “My Old Kentucky Home” on its juke box, started frothing at the mouth and high-fived C.M. The Rebels were slapped with a No. 5 seed and given marching orders to come here.
UNLV-Kentucky represents two of the three most successful programs, by winning percentage, in the history of the game.
In an interview with the Lexington paper soon after the NIT field was revealed Sunday, Newton wasn’t even asked why Kentucky deserved a home game.
In these parts, they take care of their own.
The Herald-Leader pointed out that, by NIT rules, Newton “wasn’t allowed to vote on a bid or seeding involving a school where he formerly worked.”
C.M. might not have made the decision, but his peers on the committee surely took care of him and the Wildcats by making the Rebels – which have a better Ratings Percentage Index than the Wildcats – trek here for tonight’s game.
Kentucky (20-13) lost nine of its past 13 games, and it deserves a home game in a postseason tournament? UNLV (21-10) losing six of its past 10 doesn’t look so bad by comparison.
Pack 23,000 into Rupp Arena and it’s understandable why the committee wanted to take care of Kentucky, but that building isn’t even available.
So tonight’s game will be played in the antiquated Memorial Coliseum, which may or may not be filled to its 9,000 capacity.
The Thomas & Mack Center holds twice that figure and would have been much more appropriate for such a showdown between two of the game’s most vaunted programs.
Anything to trickle a few more bucks into the Bluegrass machine called Kentucky basketball.
“These are good young people,” Newton said of the Wildcats. “They’re well coached. They come to play. I’d just be glad you can see them play again.
“I enjoy watching (Jodie) Meeks and (Patrick) Patterson and (Perry) Stevenson and the others. They play hard, and they play pretty well.”
Any UNLV fan who paid the astronomical air fare – few seats were available, and they went fast – on such short notice, on such a quick turnaround, deserves season tickets for next season.
Memo to Rebels athletic director Mike Hamrick – those fans are your best ones and deserve to be pampered. Maybe get ahold of C.M. to learn some tricks.
But let’s get back to Newton.
The homer Herald-Leader writer even coaxed more fodder from C.M., asking him for advice to UK fans.
“Don’t feel sorry for yourself,” Newton said. “Get ready for next year. Get (freshman DeAndre) Liggins (from Findlay Prep) and some of the young guys ready for next year …
“I don’t have much sympathy or patience for people who think like that. That’s not the real basketball fan. That’s the basketball fanatic.”
The Rebels have played their best ball in tough road environments, at BYU, at UNR and, oh yeah, just down the road in Louisville on New Year’s Eve.
It’s difficult to tell how well the Wildcats will be supported tonight, with so many ambivalent about the program under second-year coach Billy Gillispie.
But it doesn’t matter.
Kentucky has already received some incredible support.