Donnie Tyndall won’t deny that is “obviously a big deal any time Morehead State has the opportunity to play UK” or that he appreciates Kentucky coach John Calipari for giving Morehead that chance.
However, Tyndall wants to make sure everyone know his team will treat it as just another game when the two teams play this November in Rupp Arena.
OVC (Ohio Valley Conference).
“We did beat Louisville in the (NCAA) tournament a year ago. We received a lot of national exposure from that and have had our success. I am not trying to sound arrogant because playing Kentucky is exciting for our fans and our team. But we have garnered our share of national attention. We have played in two of the last four NCAA Tournaments and won two games. We played and beat Louisville a year before it went to the Final Four.What our program has done speaks for itself, but the opportunity to play Kentucky adds to that.
“We just don’t want to go into the game with Kentucky saying it will be the highlight of our season because I don’t want to think one non-conference game will be our biggest highlight of next season.”
But what about if Morehead beat UK, the defending national champion, in Rupp Arena in its fourth game of the 2012-13 season? Would that qualify as the season’s highlight?
“We certainly wil go in thinking we can win. But going in thinking it and doing it is a different deal,” Tyndall said. “Cal (John Calipari) has not lost a game in three years in that building yet.”
One of those games Calipari won his first season at Kentucky was a 75-59 decision over Morehead. This time, Tyndall said Morehead was the first state school “that Calipari reached out to” for the exempt tourney UK¿is part of. Morehead will also play at Maryland and get a home game with Louisianan-Lafayette as part of the exempt tournament that will also include UK and Maryland playing in Brooklyn.
“Coach Calipari has been very good to me since he has been at UK,” Tyndall said. “I think a lot of that is based on his friendship with (WKYT-TV general manager and former Morehead coach) Wayne Martin. They have a strong mutual friendship and that has helped Calipari reach out to us, and we appreciate that.”
Tyndall thinks Calipari has done an “amazing job” in his three years at Kentucky where he’s gone to the Elite Eight, lost in the Final Four semifinals and won a national title.
“He arguably done the best job of anybody in college basketball,” the Morehead coach said. “He took over a team coming off going to the NIT and has had a chance to win the national title three years in a row. I¿know it is Kentucky and you are supposed to get great players, but people sometimes he’s not beating Morehead and Murray for players. He’s beating Duke,¿Kansas, North Carolina.
“Then he gets his players to play the right way. That’s why I think he’s probably done the best job of anybody in America. Who has done better? He doesn’t get enough credit for his X and O coaching, his strategy. He’s not good. He’s not very good. He is a great coach. Coaching is not just X’s and O’s. It’s dealing with people. Recruiting and matching personalities. There’s not anyone better.”
Tyndall says there’s no doubt Calipari has been good not just for Kentucky basketball, but basketball everywhere in Kentucky.
“He is a relationship builder. He has built relationships across the state in a very short period of time with so many things he’s done for community relations and the things he’s done to give and support so many people. He is an ambassador for the university, but also for our state,” Tyndall said.
Tyndall readily admits “we use that” when recruiting, especially in states like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
“We talk to those kids about how they are from football states, but that Kentucky is a basketball state,” Tyndall said. “Look at Kentucky, Louisville, Western Kentucky and Murray all in the NCAA this year and every team won a game. We’ve been in the NCAA and won. We tell them Kentucky is a basketball state and fans rally behind us.
“In conference play the last six years, we are tied for Murray with the best home record in the OVC at 46-9. If you do well, fans really get behind you. It’s just a basketball state through and through and Kentucky winning the championship this year is only going to add to that.”