Kenny Klein surprised by Louisville staff and media

Tom Jurich and Kenny Klein raise a toast to their working relationship and friendship at the University of Louisville.
Tom Jurich and Kenny Klein raise a toast to their working relationship and friendship at UofL.

Another late night for Kenny Klein, the sports information director at the University of Louisville on Wednesday. But this time the focus was on him, not one of UofL’s 22 teams.

The time was around 6:45 p.m. when he tweeted the news that Anas Mahmoud would be having knee surgery to repair a knee and would be out for six weeks. Kenny’s day was not done yet, however, finally leaving the office with assistant Rocco Gasparro to attend a hospitality event sponsored by Gatorade  at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

When he walked into the PNC Cub, Klein was greeted by applause from a lot of familiar faces. No sign of anyone from Gatorade. He figured quickly what was up, passing by a large sheet cake with the words, “Congratulations, Kenny.” It was a surprise party to congratulate him on being named a member of the Hall of Fame by the College Sports Information Directors of America. He will be inducted June 16th in Atlanta.

Over the next hour or so, Klein would be praised for by members of the media, his staff and his boss Tom Jurich as the best in the business. Jurich described Klein as a role model, a professional committed to the highest principles, thanking him for his expertise during many challenging times for himself and the university.  “There have been a few rough spots along the way, but Kenny has always helped through those times,” he said.

One by one, such notables as Fred Cowgill, Howie Lindsey, Jeff Greer, Russ  Brown, Jody Demling, and numerous other personalities told their stories, about Klein’s accessibility, his recognition of competing interests between the coaching staffs and the media, and his ability to serve both in a professional way. His staff was equally complimentary of Klein’s work ethic, noting that he’s always first one in the office in the morning and the last to leave at night.

While Klein is the ultimate professional, he also likes to have little fun, sometimes playing elaborate pranks on staff members and friends. A photographer told a tale about how a photo of his car wound up in the classified section of the Courier-Journal. The only problem was that he hadn’t placed the ad the asking price was about $5,000 less than the value of the car. He got lots and lots of calls, of course.

Alluding to the pranks, Klein declared, “Sports are supposed to be fun so we try hard to have a little enjoyment and laughs on the job.”

Kenny gave credit to Donnie Russell for luring him to UofL a couple of years after he graduated from Murray State University. His first job was sports information director at Morehead State. Russell, a former play-by-play TV announcer was also assistant athletic director for external affairs, hired Klein in 1983 after Joe Yates went to LSU. “He’s the reason I’m at the University of Louisville,” he said. “I will be forever grateful to Donnie for hiring me.”

He also had some high praise for his boss, Tom Jurich, choking up at one point, saying, “He’s my best friend and the best boss ever,” he said. “I love this job, what a great job, with so many rewarding moments and highlights over the years.”

An assist from Darrell Griffith, the Doctor Dunkenstein

My son Steve was four or five years old, my wife was teaching summer school at Male High School during the summer of 1979.  For some reason he had accompanied her to school that day.

He doesn’t remember the experience but his mom sure does, and his dad will always be envious.

Darrell Griffth with Denny Crum at the NCAA Region last season.
Darrell Griffith with Denny Crum at the NCAA Region in Lexington last season.

Around lunchtime they wandered down to the gym. Everything wasn’t air conditioned in those days so it was pretty hot in the middle of the summer. Much to their surprise, they find a basketball player with a University of Louisville sweatshirt dribbling around a jumbled row of chairs, working on his foot work.

After a little small talk, the player tossed the ball to Steve, wanting him to take a few shots. But the highlight for his mother came when the big guy, 6-foot-5, would pick up the little guy, 3-foot-9, and raise him above his head so junior could shove the ball in the rim. He would have to do it two or three times, of course.

Continue reading “An assist from Darrell Griffith, the Doctor Dunkenstein”

Pitino’s Turn

inducted

Rick Pitino is in the Basketball Hall of Fame where he belongs.

Enters the Hall on a roll, having finally delivered an NCAA championship for the University of Louisville after 12 years, his second national title at two different schools.

The best part is that Pitino seems more dedicated to the game of college basketball than ever. He obviously wants to experience the feeling a few more times before he leaves the game, and he wants to do it at Louisville.

As he noted during his acceptance speech in Springfield, Pitino feels like he’s part of a family at UofL. The wandering days are long gone, he’s here to stay.

Equally important, he’s more committed than ever to the recruiting game, a part of that job that eventually gets to many coaches.

“I think where most coaches realize it’s their time is when they just get tired of recruiting,” he said over the weekend. “That’s what people tell me. They get tired. The good thing is I’m nowhere near tired, as a matter of fact I’m even more passionate about recruiting right now than I’ve ever been because you have a brand that’s very easy to sell.”

Just Friday, remember, he landed a commitment from Jaylen Johnson, a four-star, 6-foot-9 power forward to go with Jaquan Lyle, a five-star guard and Shaqquan Aaron, a four-star small forward in his highly-ranked 2014 class. All recruits, it seems, want Pitino at least looking at them.

Pitino is probably as focused now as when he entered the profession in 1974, recently envisioning a dynasty at the University of Louisville. With two Final Fours and a national championship in the past two years, he may well be on his way to achieving his current goal.

A video of his acceptance speech is here.

It’s official, Pitino is in

Hall of Famer

Rick Pitino, who will coach Louisville in the NCAA championship game Monday night, is among seven people elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Joining Pitino in the class of 2013, announced Monday, are former NBA stars Bernard King and Gary Payton, former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell, former University of Houston coach Guy Lewis, former University of Virginia star Dawn Staley.

Now let’s get down to business.

Rick Pitino to the Hall of Fame?

By Andrew Melnykovich

Has University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino earned a place in either the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame or the larger Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?

Rick Pitino

His coaching credentials would suggest that he has: he’s the only coach to take three different schools to the NCAA Final Four, he has a total of five Final Four appearances (none of them vacated, by the way), one NCAA title, an overall record of 586-222 as of today, and a superlative record of producing assistant coaches who do well running their own programs and who have won three championships of their own.

That is a record that compares favorably to any of the following of his coaching contemporaries, all of whom are in both basketball halls: Lou Carnesecca, John Chaney, Lute Olsen and Roy Williams. They have two titles and 12 Final Fours to their names – together – and one of the titles and six of the Final Fours belong to Olsen.

Surely, Pitino’s two brief and generally mediocre ventures into the NBA should not be disqualifying. Nor should his job switches – Larry Brown, aka “Mr. Peripatetic,” is in both HOFs.

Well, if what Pitino’s done on the hardwood isn’t enough, is it that he’s done too much of something else off the hardwood? And should bad behavior (on or off the field of play) even be a factor?

A look at other Halls of Fame suggests the answer to that is generally a resounding NO.

Let’s start with the oldest – the one in Cooperstown. It has admitted legendary carousers (Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, to name just two of many) and generally despicable human beings (Ty Cobb). Even a guy (Juan Marichal) who took a bat to head of another player, and just this year, a player whose best-known play was spitting at an umpire.

And there’s even a 314-game winner whose money pitch was illegal (Gaylord Perry.) About the only things that can keep a top-flight player out of baseball’s HOF is a ban from baseball (Pete Rose) or cheating of the pharmaceutical kind (Mark McGwire, etc).

The professional football HOF explicitly instructs voters to ignore off-the-field stuff. Otherwise, Lawrence Taylor might not be a member.

In contrast, the college football HOF states that inductees must have been good citizens and upheld the ideals of college football. That’s kept Taylor from joining its 829 members, but the gambling transgressions of Paul Hornung and Alex Karras have been forgiven. So too have the NCAA violations that occurred under the regimes of Pat Dye and Barry Switzer, among others, and the foul temper of Woody Hayes.

Finally – and most pertinently – sordid behavior is clearly not a disqualifier from either basketball HOF. Two words: Wilt Chamberlain.

So it’s pretty obvious that you do not have to be an altar boy (which Pitino has not been) to get into a Hall of Fame, basketball’s included.

Maybe the question should be: Why, after nine years of eligibility, isn’t Rick Pitino in either basketball Hall of Fame? To that one, we have no answer.