By LARRY VAUGHT
Having known Western Kentucky University basketball coach Rick Stansbury going back to his days as a college player, I know if you ask him a question, he’s going to answer. It was no surprise Tuesday didn’t back off when asked about trying to schedule a game with Kentucky only to have UK put Alabama-Birmingham and Marshall, both Conference USA teams, on the 2020-21 schedule and not the Hilltoppers.
Western figures to have a really good team this year with the return of dynamic point guard Tavern Hollingsworth and talented center Charles Bassey — along with other good players.
“We would love to play Kentucky,” Stansbury said during a Zoom meeting with media members. “Do I understand why they don’t want to play us? I do. If I’m Kentucky, why take the chance on playing Western Kentucky?”
Translation: If UK wins, everyone says it should have. If Western wins, it’s a bad loss for UK and huge win for Western.
“It’s great for this state. It’s great for Kentucky basketball. It creates excitement,” Stansbury said about why the game would be good.
Calipari, a Kentucky native, had some battles with Kentucky when he was assistant coach and then head coach at Mississippi State and again when he was an assistant coach at Texas A&M.
Western has not played UK since losing to the Cats in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament when Kentucky went on to win the national championship.
Stansbury said he had talked with Calipari about playing UK, something Stansbury offered to do as soon as he got the Western Kentucky coaching job four years ago. He has an 82-52 mark at Western, including three-straight seasons with 20 or more wins.
“I think Cal was trying to do everything he could to try and get the game to work out,” Stansbury said. “I do understand. Doesn’t mean I have to really like it. I look at it as a respect. Someone don’t want to play us, they play someone else in your league. I don’t look at the negatives, I look at the positives.
“There’s no bad feelings with it. We’ll move on and I do understand. I didn’t take it personal and hopefully in the future we can find a way to play a game.”
Stansbury knows you get more done with sugar than vinegar and understands how to say the right things. But he also knows not to take scheduling personally and I also know he’ll keep pushing for this game — and I happen to think he’s right about it being good for basketball in Kentucky.
If UK can play Marshall and UAB, why not Western Kentucky.