Because I worked 11 years in Kentucky and the last eight months in Washington, I have been asked to compare the basketball played in those places. I will begin by talking about my radio.
On a night when the weather is up to no good, the radio can be an instrument of devilish torture. There I was, a grown man by all chronological measures, lying on the living room floor, my good ear aimed at the cursed box of static. Poets loved the snowfall of Monday last. I wanted to beat up my teddy bear.
Because of the meteorological mess, I couldn't pull in the Louisville radio station, WHAS, 840 on the dial. So I couldn't hear what the University of Kentucky basketball team was doing against Auburn. My job once required me to know everything about Kentucky basketball, and now in the first season away, certain withdrawal symptoms are clear. Symptoms such as naked panic.
Mexican music, I could get. Johnny Mathis sounded as if he were in the room with me. A New Orleans talk show was excited by the trade of Conrad Dobler. But Kentucky basketball was lost in the static. I made a telephone call to another displaced Kentuckian, who is always bragging about how he gets WHAS perfectly on his antique console.
"What's the score?" I said.
"Huh?" he said.
"The Kentucky game. You listening?" (grammar is the first casualty of panic.)
"I'm listening to some Bob Dylan."
Oh, the pain. All I wanted was word the Cawood Ledford of WHAS, the voice of Kentucky basketball, was reaching the nation's capital. And my buddy with the old console was listening to Bob Dylan. Whose games does he do?
Back to the living-room floor. Come in Cawood. Occasionally, a word of basketball would make it through the snow to my living room. "And now it's 45-40," Leadford said, but I didn't know who was ahead because the Mexicans revved up the singing. An hour later, the static cleared away and Kentucky was revealed the winner, 104-81. I took a shower. It had been a hard game.
They take basketball seriously in Kentucky. A woman in Frankfort, the state capital, didn't like some things I once wrote about Kentucky. In a letter, she promised that if I ever showed my face in Frankfort, she would decorate it with a pie.
"Make it chocolate cream," I wrote cleverly.
So a month later, I was in Frankfort at a basketball game when a hand touched my shoulder and a voice said "Mr. Kindred?"
As I turned, a pie hit me in the face.
It was, alas, vanilla cream.
That was the same year I wrote a column predicting that Indiana would beat Kentucky in the NCCA tournament. Indiana was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country.I said Indiana would win by 12 points.
Well, Kentucky won.
The next day, the mailman delivered letters from Kentucky fans. Most of the letters contained clippings of my prediction, along with advice on physically painful things I could do with the clippings. One man, from Berea, Ky., sent along a plastic bag full of brown stuff. He attached a note:
"I know that you want to eat these words, so I'm sending them to you with some seasoning to make them more palatable. This seasoning in this bag is pure Bluegrass horse manure, same as this article is made up of."
At the moment, basketball around Washington doesn't match the quality of Kentucky. Where the University of Kentucky is No. 1 in the country and Louisville is No. 9. Here, only Georgetown is in the top 20 (15th on the UPI poll) while Maryland was ranked earlier in the season. And George Washington may be their equal.
Despite that, the mailman delivers kindly letters here, too. After Maryland lost to North Carolina about three weeks ago, these typewriter keys said Maryland couldn't play defense against five guys who got lost on the way to the YMCA. A woman in College Park was offended. She wrote, "Your personal attack on Lefty Driesell was in the poorest taste possible. He has been a winning coach longer than you have been a winning sportswriter, which is never, and you ought to just go back to Kentucky or whatever hills you come from."
I made no personal attack on Coach Driesell, who is not eligible to play defense for Maryland, and, besides, I like to watch his team play, just as anybody who likes college basketball ought to enjoy seeing George Washington and Georgetown.
With its crew of free lancers, Maryland is liable to do anything at anytime, be it sensational or silly. Albert King, a freshman who is bright enought to stay out of the name-calling that went on there, is a great player who will profit mightily if Driesell ever finds someone whose first thought is to set up a play. Had King been on Phil Ford's team the other night Carolina would have beaten Maryland by 20, not two.
At Georgetown, Coach John Thompson has a disciplined team with fine shooters in Derrick Jackson and John Duren. His best inside man is Craig Shelton, who at 6-foot-7 is the physical match for - listen closely - the sixth-best frontliner at Kentucky. The sixth-best! That tells you why Georgetown is not in Kentucky's class.
Neither can George Washington match the top teams in size combined with depth. While Coach Bob Tallent has six skillful battlers, only two are taller than 6-5. Both Kentucky and Louisville have six players 6-6 or taller.
What this means is that Georgetown and George Washington might beat anyone on some nights. They are good enough. But the percentages say they won't do it often because in basketball the percentages favor the good, big guys over the good, little guys. Maryland, on the other hand, has the size and the ability to beat anyone any night, including themselves.
You will pardon me now. As this is written, it is nearing one o'clock Saturday afternoon. The boob tube calls.Maryland against Clemson.