Dominican Fever and Calipari’s Coup

Read this column by Hall-of-Famer Billy Reed, and you’ll know all you need to know about the Dominican Republic, its basketball team and the soap opera currently going on between UK and U of L fans over this exhibition next week at the KFC Yum! Center.

by Billy Reed

Cal comes off as clever

I don’t know about you, but, frankly, I’m thrilled that the national basketball team of the Dominican Republic is training in Lexington for the FIBA Americas Tournament Aug. 30-Sept. 11 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. I am not sure what this tournament is all about, but I think it has something to do with the Olympics, in which the Dominican Republic has never competed in basketball.

So far as I know, no foreign team has ever used the commonwealth as a training base to score another coup for John Calipari, the clever University of Kentucky coach who has agreed to import the Dribble Drive to the Dominican in exchange for Eloy Vargas and all the Dominican cigars we can afford to buy. No, check that. Vargas already is a member of UK’s team through an agreement worked out with NAFTA and the CIA.

Speaking of the CIA, I’m sure it had nothing to do with the 1961 assassination of Rafael L. Trujillo, the brutal Dominican dictator who ruled the mountainous little Caribbean country for 31 years. Happily, the government has been more or less stable since 1996 and probably will stay that way unless Calipari decides he’s tired of Lexington and tries to start an NBA franchise in Santo Domingo, the capital city that has a population of 2.25 million.

Don’t laugh. Anything is possible when Calipari is involved. Of course, the question remains as to whether he would actually want to live in a country where the economy is estimated at $45.6 billion a year, which is probably about what he will get from Mitch Barnhart the next time is contract is renewed.

So far the only connection I’ve been able to find between Calipari and the Dominican Republic is religion. He’s a Roman Catholic and so is 95 per cent of the nation’s population. The only other thing is that the Dominican shares an island with Haiti, the impoverished and ravaged country for which Calipari – in his finest moment as UK Coach – raised $1 million season before last.

The only reason I can figure that Calipari took the Dominican job is to help Joker Phillips, the UK football coach. Ordinarily, this is the time of year when everybody is talking about the upcoming grid season. But by bringing in the Dominican team and scheduling exhibitions against former UK players in the NBA, Calipari has managed to divert attention from football, for which I’m sure Phillips is very grateful.

To fully appreciate the Dominican Republic’s team in our midst, it is important to know something about the island nation’s history. So here, in a nutshell, it is:

Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the country in 1492, the same year Dick Vitale’s ancestors invented basketball. For a few centuries, the French and Spanish took turns plundering and pillaging. After that came a period of self-determination which featured all sorts of your basic revolutions, riots, coups, dictatorships, civil wars, and assassinations.

The dictator Trujillo came to power in 1930, the same year Adolph Rupp arrived in Lexington, and stayed in power until 1961, the year I graduated from high school. I fail to see anything but coincidence in these historical events. But even with Trujillo gone, the Dominican Republic came to understand capitalism and the free-market system about as slowly as, say, Dan Quayle. It wasn’t until 1996 that everything settled down thanks to all sorts of democratic reforms and trade agreements of the sort currently happening in Wisconsin.

So there you have the history of the Dominican Republic. I don’t think Woody Allen ever was a dictator there, but I can’t be certain. I am sure, however, that when it comes to hoops, the Dominican Republic has been sort of the Gardner-Webb of international basketball. The country’s biggest hoops triumph came in 2003, when it won the silver medal at the Pan-American Games.

That silver at least gives the Dominican Republic something in common with Denny Crum, who coached to the U.S. team to a silver in the 1987 Pan-Am Games in Indianapolis. The U.S. which had dominated Pan-Am hoops prior to that, has not won the gold since then.

And speaking of Crum, he recently created a bit of a stir when he agreed to help former UK Coach Joe B. Hall, his co-host on a statewide radio show, coach a team of former UK stars against the Dominican Republic in an exhibition on Aug. 16 in the KFC Yum! Center.

Some observers have noted that Crum, who still is on the U of L payroll as a special assistant to President Jim Ramsey, seems a lot chummier these days with Calipari and Hall than he is with Tom Jurich, the U of L athletics director who forced Crum to retire, and Rick Pitino, the former UK coach whom Jurich hired to replace Crum.

That’s hardly news, of course, considering that Crum has often used his radio show to criticize Pitino, much like Adolph Rupp did to Joe B. Hall during Hall’s first few years as Rupp’s successor. Considering how much Rupp’s criticism stung Hall, it’s a wonder he hasn’t taken Pitino’s side on the radio.

At any rate, Crum could be the first guy to coach at least one of Pitino’s former UK players (Nazr Mohmmed, who will play for the Wildcat pros) against a couple of Pitino’s former players from U of L (Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa, who will play for the Dominicans).

Garcia, who plays for the Sacramento Kings, will be joined on the Dominican Republic team by fellow NBA stars Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks) and Charlie Villeneuva (Detroit Pistons). The squad of UK pro stars will include John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, Jodie Meeks and Mohammed.

The night before the game in the KFC Yum! Center, the Dominicans and the UK pro products will play in Rupp Arena. That exhibition reportedly is sold out at prices ranging from $15 to $125 per ticket. The proceeds, instead of going to the Haiti relief effort or the Dominican Republic national program, apparently will go mainly to pay insurance premiums for the NBA players, who are currently facing a lockout in case their union and the NBA owners can’t agree on various issues such as whether each franchise should upgrade its private jet to a 747. (Just kidding, but you get the idea about the ridiculousness of it all.)

I keep hearing that Dominican Republic Fever is sweeping the commonwealth, but I won’t believe it until I see a Spanish edition of The Cats Pause or hear a recruiting guru, of which there seem to be an alarming number these days, discussing who’s the 33rd best point guard prospect in Santo Domingo.

The big winner, of course, is Calipari. He has backdoored U of L and wheedled his way into the KFC Yum! Center. He has used Crum to disgruntle many in the Cardinal camp who think their sainted ex-coach should not be consorting publicly with known Wildcats. He has also gotten in some extra coaching time with Vargas and will be able to showcase his NBA stars for recruits.

For more information, please turn in to the Jose B. and Dioncion Show.