Louisville’s new prep basketball academy has lofty aspirations

Jeremy Kipness and his father, Michael, hold the championship trophy for winning the Elite 1 Fall Showcase in Phoenix last year.

Between racing dates at Churchill Downs, Jeremy Kipness is keeping a close eye out for real estate listings in the Louisville area. He and his father, Michael, are in the process of bringing the Aspire Basketball Academy to town.

They are intense fans when it comes to thoroughbred horse racing and prep school and college basketball. The academy is moving here from Scottsdale, Ariz., for the 2017-18 academic year.

While Jeremy was attending the Kentucky Oaks with his good friend Luke Hancock last Friday, Michael was selling his selections and analysis for the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby as well as the 25 under-card races that made up this two-day racing extravaganza.

Michael, better known as “The Wizard,” is considered the most successful and respected professional handicapper in the world. He has been selling his thoroughbred racing selections since 1987, including the last year’s partnering with The Daily Racing Form, horseracing’s premier horse-racing publication.

“Jeremy and Luke are the closest of friends,” said Michael. “Luke is like a second son to me.”

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NCAA focuses on sexual activity, Pitino is the easiest target

That dark cloud is back, the one emanating from the NCAA investigation of the University of Louisville basketball program, casting an ugly shadow over an already deeply scarred Belknap Campus.

The NCAA enforcement staff, one of the world’s slowest deliberative bodies, has finally gotten back to UofL’s response on a charge that Rick Pitino did not monitor the activities of Andre McGee. The reaction from the NCAA is disturbing, claiming that the UofL coach should have been much more active in supervising McGee.

This coming from an organization that goes overboard to promote racial equality, essentially suggesting in its response that Pitino should have micro-managed McGee. That somehow the coach should have known that illicit activities were occurring at Minardi Hall. That the individual Pitino made Director of Basketball Operations was not worthy of his trust. That Pitino should have been looking over McGee’s shoulder.

Courtesy of Kelly Dickey

If Pitino is guilty of anything, he is at fault for trusting McGee not to drag UofL’s basketball program into the gutter.  As a result, the university has been exposed to shame and ridicule. The coach’s demands for strict adherence to NCAA rules were obviously ignored. And his reputation, personally and professionally, has taken a major blow.

Simply because Pitino trusted McGee.

In essence, what the NCAA is suggesting is that Pitino knew that McGee was up to no good. The NCAA enforcement committee avoids making a direct accusation but its response also could be interpreted to mean that Pitino actually knew what was occurring at Minardi Hall. 

Pitino has probably produced more successful college basketball coaches than anyone in the profession. Billy Donovan, Tubby Smith, Ralph Willard, Kevin Willard, Jim O’Brien, Mick Cronin, Travis Ford, and Scott Davenport, just to name a few. He didn’t achieve that monitoring their every move.

The UofL coach no doubt had high hopes for Andre McGee, hoping he would join that group some day. McGee probably would have followed a similar path had he acted responsibly. From all indications, McGee just wasn’t mature enough to handle the expectations.

As a result, Pitino may well be subject to a severe penalty, possibly a temporary suspension similar to that incurred by Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. Boeheim was suspended for nine games for a number of years of illegal recruiting activities. 

The difference is that Boeheim was actively involved. There is no evidence that Pitino knew, or should have known, that illicit activities were occurring at Minardi Hall. No evidence whatsoever.

Pitino’s knowledge, or lack of it, seems to be beside the point. The enforcement committee report goes into great detail on the sexual activity and seems determined to ensure that someone pays dearly for it. Rick Pitino just happens to be in the line of fire.

Ryan McMahon off the bench, carries Louisville past Syracuse in overtime

Ryan McMahon the guy who usually leads the cheers on the bench was leading the University of Louisville on the court at Syracuse in overtime on Big Monday. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

One of the most unpredictable games ever, no one ever really in command or playing under control, last one with the basketball wins … unless someone turns the ball over or dribbles it out of bounds.

Keystone cops near the end of regulation, balls bouncing off of heads, toes, butts and elbows. Or maybe a pinball game, balls ricocheting off the flappers, winding up with the weirdest angles, sometimes even in the basket.

The comedy on the court upstaged only by Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim roaming around with his mouth wide open, unable to believe any call could go against his Syracuse team. University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino trying hard to stifle a smile or a smirk (who knows?) with the game on the line in the closing seconds of regulation. 

Anything seemed possible but winning the least likely after Donovan Mitchell fouled out at the 1:18 mark, with UofL clinging to a fragile five-point lead. No surprise Syracuse coming back to tie it up after one of those Keystone cop plays on a three-pointer by John Gillon. Deng Adel missing the front end of two bonus situations.  This one was destined for overtime.

With Mitchell out, Adel missing everything and Snider all but exhausted, the question was where UofL’s points were going to come from in this overtime.

Wait, is that Ryan McMahon out there? Was that Ryan McMahon with that 3-point jumper? Was that Ryan McMahon with an offensive rebound, cleaning up the garbage?

Syracuse fans had to be wondering, thinking, “Who is this guy?” They hadn’t seen him the entire game.

Yes, indeed, it was, Pitino confirming it. “Ryan never met a shot he didn’t like,” said the coach. “He has nerves of steel.”

Entirely appropriate that Ryan McMahon would be the UofL player at the line with one second on the clock, all but sealing the 76-72 win by swishing two of two free throws. Should have been over but that was only assured in the final split second when a Syracuse player stepped out of bounds. 

Louisville had outlasted Syracuse, but this time Ryan McMahon, usually leading cheers on the bench, was leading the charge on the floor when the final horn sounded.

The man:

Snider injury forces Louisville to go with Plan B, whatever that is

Quentin Snider out for two or three weeks. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

University of Louisville fans were still counting their blessings that Donovan Mitchell was able to return to the game Saturday after injuring an ankle. Wow, that was scary.

The relief was short-lived.

Quentin Snider, UofL’s starting point guard, will be out for two or three weeks because of a strained hip flexor. The drama, the jinx, or the bad timing — depending on one’s particular perspective — is back.

This used to be an annual occurrence for University of Louisville basketball, a key player getting injured. Fans almost came to expect the blows during the early years of Rick Pitino’s tenure.

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, with Snider having mastered Pitino’s system, the best point guard at UofL since Peyton Siva. Six weeks to pull all of the elements together, to make another run for the Final Four, Snider was getting better every game.

Going to be fun to see who Pitino goes with at point guard in Snider’s absence. Will he go with Mitchell or with Tony Hicks, David Levitch or Ryan McMahon? Could he make Deng Adel the shooting guard and fast-forward freshman V. J. King’s emergence? 

A waste of time attempting to second guess Pitino. Whatever solution he comes up with will be unique. That’s just the way he is.

Why Tom Jurich keeps Kentucky on Louisville’s schedule despite the animosity

For whatever reason, Tom Jurich would never seriously consider dropping Kentucky off a University of Louisville schedule in any sport. Never under his watch.

Contrary to some of us who would rather do without all the animosity, Jurich apparently considers UK as indispensable to the lineup of opponents. Probably because the games between the teams are always among the best attended, attract maximum media exposure, and are fiercely contested.

Many Louisville fans can still remember the days when Kentucky refused to play UofL in the major sports. As long as the Wildcats didn’t have to play Louisville, they could claim they were far superior and there was no way to challenge that notion. UK was in the mighty SEC and UofL was either an independent or making its way in and out of a half dozen secondary conferences. 

UofL actually needed UK on the schedule in those days, seeking validity, wanting to earn the respect of the Lexington rival. When the teams finally did begin playing each other in basketball and football, and Louisville began to win many of those games, it soon became apparent that gaining the respect of UK fans was not possible.

The basketball series, of course, is still considered the most heated in the rivalry. This despite the fact that UK has won eight of the last nine games, including four straight over the Cardinals. John Calipari and his NBA prep factory owning Rick Pitino over the past decade.  Games between UofL and UK women are equally contentious, with Louisville’s Jeff Walz finally breaking a six-year losing streak to Matthew Mitchell this season.

No less intense in football, in which UofL has won five of the last six games. Wildcat fans are still reveling in their team’s 41-38 upset of 11th-ranked Louisville in the final regular season game. That win more important to Kentucky than making a bowl game for the first time in six years.

The baseball stadiums in both Louisville and Lexington are always packed for the UofL-UK games, always tightly contested, integral to the success of both teams. Louisville has owned the series in recent years, winning the last six games between the two teams.

UK fans will never acknowledge that UofL is anywhere close to being on the same level in terms of prestige or competitiveness — no matter how many times UofL defeats them or how many national championships or final fours the Cardinals claim. For that matter, neither will UofL ever give UK fans the respect they think they deserve. 

Kentucky fans consider Louisville as a crime-infested urban area. Many of them have never visited the state’s largest and most prosperous city. A large segment of Louisville fans, on the other hand, consider Kentucky a rural and backward state, ranked near the bottom in many national categories, and a state that relies heavily on Louisville tax dollars to stay afloat.

For these and many other reasons, the rivalry is among the most bitter rivalries in college sports. Those who describe it as a friendly rivalry are, as one friend described them, “art majors,” completely out of touch with the real world.

The rivalry is counterproductive in many ways, often dividing families, friendships, business relationships, and communities. Not good for the state either, creating very real barriers to any real significant cooperation between the state’s two largest educational institutions.

Despite all these negative factors, the rivalry will go on, making life miserable for fans of the losing school, creating even more levels of resentment and animosity. UK and UofL fans live to hate each other.

Tom Jurich knows that will probably never change. Kentucky fans consider Louisville a threat, and that equals respect, whether they ever admit it or not. That’s why UK is staying on the schedule.