Joe Cox and Ryan Clark, authors of Fightin’ Words: Kentucky vs. Louisville, joined Wildcat Blue Nation on Sunday for an interview to talk about their new book, which goes on sale Tuesday, March 4. The book looks back and every match-up played between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals both before and after the original Dream Game was played.
Wildcat Blue Nation: Dating back to the Dream Game, the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry has been played some 31 times. The game airs on CBS every year. Do you think ESPN would hype it up like UNC-Duke if they had aired the game?
Joe Cox: I suspect that ESPN’s marketing power has greatly assisted the UNC/Duke rivalry. With the SEC Network oncoming, I’ll be interested to see if there’s more focus on the ‘Cats/Cards matchup– particularly if ESPN ever wrangles the game away from CBS. There will be plenty of people who say that UNC/Duke is the premier rivalry… and historically, it’s a great one. But from 1983 on, I’ll take UK/UofL head-to-head with any rivalry. Put it this way– consider that recent UNC/Duke game that was postponed due to weather. That NEVER would happen in Kentucky. If the two teams and the three officials could get to the arena, the game would be played. (And Rupp or Yum! would be rocking, somehow).
Ryan Clark: Nothing matters more to ESPN than Duke. I’m sure that they would hype that rivalry no matter who aired it. But there is a large population that think the UK and UofL rivalry is just as big, if not bigger.
Wildcat Blue Nation: You spoke with a number of former Kentucky and Louisville players and coaches in writing Fightin’ Words. Which interview was the most entertaining?
Joe Cox: Coach Crum and Coach Hall were both superb and I don’t think either has forgotten one second of one game! A couple of other favorites for me would be Cedric Jenkins and Edgar Sosa. Cedric is just a great guy, and he provided some real insight into his big Dream Game moment– the tip-in to beat UofL in 1987. Edgar was playing in an Olympic qualifying tournament with the Dominican team, and took time out of his insane schedule to talk with me, and his story was superb– from Pitino telling him to transfer in the days leading up to UK/UofL to him being the hero with a game-winning trey. Everybody was great, but those are a couple that stand out.
Ryan Clark: Has to be a tie between Peyton Siva after his win over UK in 2013 and John Pelphrey, who recalled a hilarious story when he beat Louisville and scored 26 points. Both stories are just so good, and so many folks are just so likable.
Wildcat Blue Nation: Let’s go back to 2004. The Cats are down 58-57 before Tubby Smith calls a time out with 4.8 seconds to play. Patrick Sparks attempts a 3 and gets fouled. How nerve-wrecking while watching the final seconds of that particular game?
Joe Cox: I know some UK fans who say that is STILL their favorite UK/UofL game, even over the Final Four game. I was in law school at UofL at the time, and it’s one of the more memorable match-ups in the series for me!
Ryan Clark: I was not nervous. Joe and I had watched Sparks while he was at WKU. I’d seen that kid hit so many big shots, I knew he’d hit them. Similarly, my granddad still says this is his favorite UK game – even over the Final Four in 2012.
Wildcat Blue Nation: Let’s talk about this year’s Cats. Once again, John Calipari brings in the Number 1 recruiting class to Kentucky. Do you think the media played some part of the high expectations for this team with the comparisons to Michigan’s Fab 5?
Joe Cox: Yes, but probably in a more wide-spread sense than people realize. I’m not sure there’s not some recruiting bounce back. The recruiting services obviously don’t watch all high school games everywhere. They go a great deal off of summer camps, AAU, and learned observers– and, I suspect, the programs who are going after guys. I’m not sure that Calipari’s recruiting success isn’t so huge that players who he is pursuing aren’t getting a bump just because he’s going after them.
To be brutally honest, other than Julius Randle and maybe James Young, I just don’t think these guys are quite as good as people thought they were. There’s likely more than that at play, but that’s part of the picture.
This is also just an insane year. Who IS any good? I liked Michigan State early. They’re no better than UK. Syracuse looked great a month ago. Not anymore. Florida is the current flavor and maybe that happens. Or maybe Wichita State does the impossible and runs the table. But personally, my bracket is going to have LOTS of chalk!
Ryan Clark: No doubt. The media convinced all of us UK would be a lot better than they are. Now I think we have to admit – and the media and all the prognosticators have to admit – they don’t know anything.
Wildcat Blue Nation: Dream Game 2 in the 2012 Final Four really shows why this is the best rivalry in college basketball. All eyes were on the state of Kentucky, more so than Ohio, Kansas, or even North Carolina. Do you think that the rivalry would improve if the NBA raised the age limit?
Joe Cox: Probably so, but then, that would help all of college basketball. Coach K is getting one-and-dones at Duke, and Coach Self had a big recruiting year and is looking at another one. If guys are playing more years, everybody wins. Well, everybody except maybe the kids who are deferring millions of bucks for another year or two.
Ryan Clark: All of college basketball would improve if we raise the limit to two years. The rivalry would just get to keep those players for longer. teams that were getting the best talent – Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, etc. – would just be better for longer periods of time. So yes all of the rivalries would be better.
Wildcat Blue Nation: Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum have a successful radio show together. Can you imagine Calipari and Rick Pitino doing such a thing together?
Joe Cox: I asked Coach Hall that very question. He acknowledged that it didn’t seem likely now, but said he thought they’d both be great at it. If there is a lesson from the career of Rick Pitino, it’s never say never.
Ryan Clark: Absolutely not.
Wildcat Blue Nation: Thanks again for joining Wildcat Blue Nation.
Joe Cox: Always a pleasure, Daniel.
Ryan Clark: Thanks man!!!!