LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – On Wednesday, the University of Louisville had three women's basketball players taken in the WNBA Draft. Unfortunately, they had to share the spotlight with comments from a governor who wanted to settle a score with their head coach.
This column is an attempt to give the spotlight back.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz, after his team advanced to the Elite Eight last month, saw the governor immediately congratulate a men's team at the University of Kentucky for doing the same thing and, upon hearing no mention of his own team by the governor, called him out on Twitter.
It wasn’t political. I don’t know Walz's political affiliation and don’t care. If anything, his own stances on "participation trophies" and the like are probably more in line with some of the governor's beliefs than not.
This was about sticking up first for his players – who happen to be women – and second for his university. Both were slighted by the governor's lack of attention, and that was rectified after Walz called him out on Twitter.
On Wednesday, hours before Louisville player Asia Durr was taken with the second pick of the WNBA Draft, Bevin was asked about the flap by Terry Meiners of WHAS Radio. He said the following:
"I have never met Jeff in my life. I wouldn't honestly know him if I ran into him. I really wouldn't. Nor has he ever met me. It was an odd thing. And I feel bad saying this, but it's true. If he had been a little more focused on game strategy and coaching that weekend and a little less on this kind of silliness, the better team would have won. We got outcoached, straight up. We were expected to beat Connecticut. We should have beaten Connecticut. And it's disappointing because our women's team in Louisville was phenomenal. Phenomenal. And they've been well-coached. We've had a good team. I've Tweeted about them every single year that I've been governor, encouraged people to go to their games. . . . So this kind of silly distraction was an unforced error on the coaching staff's part that in hindsight they should be regretting."
For the record, Bevin, a longtime Louisville resident, may have great political savvy. But he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to women's basketball, nor should he be expected to.
Connecticut was the favorite in that game. Few expected Louisville to win. Connecticut was playing a virtual home game. When the bracket came out, only 12.8 percent of fans in ESPN's bracket contest picked the Cardinals to advance past the regional. The Huskies had won 45 straight games in the NCAA East Regional coming into that game. They were favored by Las Vegas oddsmakers who made the odds to win the national championship. They were favored by the sportsbook SportsBet.com. They were favored by the Massey Ratings, based largely on the home-court advantage.
Was Walz outcoached? He might tell you he was. He usually will tell you he was when his team loses.
Walz's only point in Tweeting was to stick up for his players and program, who got short shrift from the governor by a failure to show the same public support that he immediately offered to a UK men's program upon accomplishing the same thing. In his statements on Wednesday, the governor compounded his original error.
Instead of attacking the coach based on a misguided opinion, Bevin might well have responded to Meiners teeing him up on the subject by congratulating Asia Durr, who hours later would go No. 2 in the WNBA Draft. Or he might’ve congratulated Arica Carter, who went with the 32nd pick of the draft to the Phoenix Mercury. Or he might've congratulated Sam Fuehring, who went No. 34 to the Washington Mystics. Or he might've noted that these women represent what is good in college athletics or praised their willingness to be positive role models in the city and state.
He might've congratulated Walz not only on having three players taken in the draft, but on the fact that all three will graduate, or on Asia Durr being named the ACC's Scholar Athlete of the Year, in addition to being a consensus All-American.
Those things didn't happen.
The fact of the matter, if anyone cares about facts anymore, is that Kentucky ought to be celebrating anyone who stands as a role model for pursuing higher education, achieving excellence and finishing a degree.
Kentucky ought to be celebrating the achievements of women. Bevin, whose running mate was the first African-American woman to hold an executive office in the state of Kentucky, ought to know that better than anybody.
There was a point in Walz's original Tweet to the governor, and it held an important lesson for all Kentucky politicians – the work of women, including minority women, to achieve excellence in and on behalf of the state of Kentucky deserves the same respect from the state's leaders as the work of men doing the same thing.
It was no trivial matter.
The resulting ruffled feathers on behalf of the governor, and the pettiness that took place on Wednesday, was spurred on by a media entity which holds a contract with the University of Louisville, making the matter even more unusual.
Given the chance to address the program further, Bevin elected to criticize their coach and position it as an underachiever.
Let the record show that the program is anything but. If this state or its government or universities or schools or any other public entity had achieved at anything close to the level that the Louisville women's program has performed over the past 12 years, it would be far better off.
Durr, Carter and Fuehring represented the state of Kentucky in an exemplary way on a big stage. They deserved not to have some silly score-settling nonsense detract from their accomplishments.
But as we seem to major in doing in the state of Kentucky, we didn't let an opportunity to put our best foot forward go by without someone in leadership shoving a foot squarely into our mouths. Yet again.
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