IT WAS fascinating to listen to the passion of Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey last week. He wondered, after the Sandy Hook school shootings, why we, as a country, can't find the wisdom to craft a solution to what has become an epidemic. He was speaking as a father of young children. He could have been speaking for all of us.
What was especially impressive about Kelsey is that in our politically correct environment, he had something to lose. Yet, he chose to speak from the heart, anyway.
Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino spoke out, as well. They have less to lose at this stage of their careers, but, knowing they had an audience, they chose not to play it safe. They contributed to the public discourse on an uncomfortable subject.
If you grew up in the 1960s, as I did, you remember high-profile athletes and coaches speaking out on the issues of the day - Vietnam, civil rights, the military draft. As the money and fame grew, not wanting to offend potential endorsers or concern about what employers might think took precedence over a social conscience.
Thankfully, in this town, we had John Chaney. The Temple coach knew his role was bigger than basketball. He was not always artful in how he said what he believed, but he was never fearful. Whether it was the odious Prop 48 or a politician who cared more about himself than his constituents, Chaney had an opinion and was always willing to share it. If screaming was necessary, he screamed.
In a sports world dominated by cliche, where anything out of the ordinary is dissected like the Gettysburg Address, I wonder whether more people in sports might be willing to have an opinion beyond their world if they weren't so fearful of it being twisted so much that the original intent gets lost in the noise.
Perhaps Pat Kelsey's words, delivered in Columbus on Dec. 18 after his team lost to Ohio State because the coach knew he would have an audience he likely would never get again, are a reminder that silence is rarely the solution.
The Big East deal
Yes, they still play basketball in the Big East. And the top of the league will be as good as ever. Louisville is my pick to win the national championship. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Syracuse and Georgetown are Sweet 16 possibilities. If this is indeed the final season of the Big East as we knew it, it is clear that winning will be as difficult as ever.
Big East teams did not lose a game from Dec. 5 until Dec, 19, a run of 42 straight. Sounds nice, and it is, but it is a bit bogus, as November and December records often can be. Before Marquette lost at Green Bay last Wednesday, league teams were 95-6 at home, 14-6 on the road and 21-15 on neutral courts.
If the Catholic Seven are really serious about creating a new order, I don't see how they can go west beyond Chicago and Milwaukee. While Creighton and Gonzaga have terrific basketball programs with wonderful followings, the travel would make no sense for all those other sports teams.
What I have heard is that they want a 10-team conference with manageable travel for all teams, and a home-and-home 18-game basketball schedule that finds a true regular-season champion. What they need is something fans can actually understand.
Taking an edge
Few coaches have taken better advantage of the ton of transfers than Notre Dame's Mike Brey.
"I don't look at the transfer thing as an epidemic," Brey said. "I look it as it's a pool of players for me to pick from . . . I kind of like that there's another pool of players out there that's going to be circulating at Christmas and in the spring. I try to keep a scholarship always there. I tell my assistants to keep an eye on the waiver wire."
And he knows it goes both ways.
"There are so many games on TV," Brey said. "When one of my freshmen from, let's say, Texas, doesn't play and his father goes into work the next day and eight co-workers say, 'How come your guy isn't playing?' - that's the world we're in now. That's why we've tried to redshirt guys to take the pressure off them."
Brey figures he might have the oldest frontline in the county this season. Seems to be working out pretty well.
Battle for Kentucky
Kentucky is at Louisville Saturday afternoon on CBS. Louisville "has" to win only one game this season, and this is it. The Cardinals, playing the best defense in the country, have the better players this time. UK is 1-3 against the serious teams on its schedule and 7-0 against the rest. The 'Ville has been winning big without big man Gorgui Dieng (fractured left wrist). He has missed seven games, including the loss to Duke.
Watch to see how much better UK's freshmen have gotten. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress average 30 points between then. Nerlens Noel already has 41 blocks and 30 steals.
Louisville still has most of the players who gave UK a great game in the Final Four. Kentucky has nobody of significance from the champs. Should be all 'Ville.
Somebody schedule these guys
When ESPN.com asked several of the nation's coaches which arena they had never coached in but would like to, two said the Palestra.
They would be Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Rick Barnes (Texas).
This and that *
Last season was the first time four Ivy teams made the postseason - Harvard (NCAA), Penn and Princeton (CBI) and Yale (CIT). It was the first time in 4 decades the Ivy had consecutive nonconference records above .500. This season, the league is 31-52 in noncon games, so there will be no four in the postseason this time.
* By the way, the highest-ever ranking by an Ivy team was Penn at No, 3, by two of its teams in the early 1970s. Penn has been ranked 78 times, Princeton four.
* Harvard coach Tommy Amaker was raving about his freshman point guard Siyani Chambers when Harvard was here to play Saint Joseph's on Nov. 20. Chambers has been really solid and just ended a streak of 32 consecutive free throws.
* Yes, there were 16,514 for the Dec. 15 tripleheader at the new Barclays Center, ending with Michigan-West Virginia. What that means relative to March's Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Brooklyn arena is unknown, but there is obviously hoops interest in the borough that has produced so many great players.
* In the first 124 games Colonial Athletic Association teams played, 53 were decided by six points or fewer and nine in overtime.
* In the junior class, only Creighton's Doug McDermott has scored more than Delaware's Devon Saddler (1,252 points).
* Two stats you don't see much were illuminated during Saturday's Kansas-Ohio State CBS broadcast: KU center Jeff Withey has 55 blocks and only 14 personal fouls. OSU's Shannon Scott has 27 steals and only nine turnovers.