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UK Basketball: Just Like The Pittsburgh Steelers Of The 70s?

John Calipari. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing writer

Seeing a picture of John Calipari recently posing with former Kentucky Football player Bud Dupree at a Pittsburgh Steelers game made me think about Kentucky Basketball. And not because John Calipari was in the picture.


It made me think about the similarities between Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s – Hall of Famers Mean Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, Mike Webster, Franco Harris and of course John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Terry Bradshaw – and UK’s current basketball team.

On that Steelers team you had guys like defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene and center Mike Webster that got in there and did the grunt work. The dirty work down in the trenches. They were the backbone of the team. Reid Travis and PJ Washington play similar roles for UK. Travis is a guy that will give the extra effort needed to get on the floor and grab a loose ball or fight off an opponent to get a critical rebound. Washington doesn’t mind the contact inside when he posts up an opponent in the paint and scores. He is a guy that doesn’t back down from anyone. Just like Mean Joe Greene and the Steel Curtain defense of the 70s.

Another couple of players for the Steelers – Jack Ham and Jack Lambert – were undersized, quick linebackers that could play against the run or drop back in coverage. Both were known for their toughness and “in-your-face” attitude with which they played the game. Kentucky has Ashton Hagans to perform that role for this team. He is a super quick, elite defender that is constantly in the face of the offensive player just like Ham and Lambert. He makes life miserable for the opposing point guard.

Then you’ve got Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, two wide receivers that were the finesse players for the Steeler offense. Guys that could be counted on to score points when the team needed them. Time and again they came up with the big catch in critical situations that allowed the Steelers to win four Super Bowls in six years.  UK has two guys – Tyler Herro and Quade Green – that can provide big baskets when they are needed most. Both players can hit the outside shot, create their own shot off the dribble and make the finesse pass to an open teammate for the dunk.

Then you’ve got Franco Harris, running back extraordinaire, for the Steelers in the 70s. Franco was the player that was one of the faces of the Steeler program. Known as a hard runner that could also be a finesse player when catching the ball out of the backfield Harris was a consistent scorer as a receiver and runner. In that same vein UK has Keldon Johnson. Johnson is an elite scorer that has the physical tools to dominate his opponent with pure speed and strength but can also finesse his defender by pulling up and hitting the three-point shot off the dribble. He is one of the “faces” of this UK team because of his enthusiasm and highlight reel dunk activity from UK’s exhibition games in the Bahamas.

Last but not least is Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw was a player that had great physical tools, knew his limitations and used his strong arm and knowledge of the game to lead his Steeler team to four AFC Championships and four Super Bowl titles. He was a guy that could get the ball to the right person at the right time regardless of what the opponent’s defense was doing.
Immanuel Quickley is a lot like that. He has all the physical tools to be a great point guard. He makes great decisions with the ball, can score taking it to the basket if necessary and has the ability to knock down the outside three-pointer. He is a great ball distributor and can use his knowledge of the game to become a great point guard for the Wildcats.

Finally we have Chuck Noll, head coach of the Steelers. Noll was a great judge of talent and was known as an innovator in the game of football. He seemed to always attract great talent to his Steeler teams. He was a consistent winner and developed a special culture in Pittsburgh that resonated with the hardworking, blue collar residents of that area. Kentucky Basketball has that same type leader in John Calipari. He is an innovative coach that seems to attract the best talent, wins at a very high level and has also created a unique basketball culture that resonates with UK fans from all over the Commonwealth of Kentucky and around the world.

The uniqueness of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 70s was their ability to take players that proved to be very talented individually and mold them into a selfless team that cared only about one thing – winning. John Calipari is doing that same thing with his talented group of players in the 2018-2019 season.

With so many similarities between the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 70s and this current UK Basketball team here’s hoping they end up having one more similarity. Those Steelers were four time Super Bowl Champions. Let’s hope that this current group of talented, hard working Wildcat players achieves the same results the Steelers had each year. Season ending champions.

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