Tipoff '08: SEC Media Days Blog, Day One

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Join KSR at SEC Media Days as we bring you wall-to-wall coverage of the event. Today's SEC Media Days Blog focuses on head coaches and players from Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee as Tipoff '08 begins at 9:30 a.m. (CT) with Commissioner Mike Slive. . **Updated 4:00 p.m. CT**

6:30 a.m. -- The first surprise of the day from SEC Media Days is that I learn "we" have already voted. Actually, the SEC hand-selected media members to vote for the preseason all-SEC teams and predictions for the teams' standings. Does this represent a true "SEC Media" vote, since some/most of those voters may not be present? Inquiring minds want to know.

Preseason SEC Player of the Year--according to the "other" media vote (and KSR's as well) was Chris Lofton.

Larry Vaught, Brian Eldridge and yours truly are here for Kentucky Sports Report. Should the media vote reported yesterday represent the only media vote, we will update the blog with the "officially unrecognized by the SEC" KSR media voting to correct the errors made by "the other guys." Stay tuned for this, and much more as KSR brings you wall-to-wall coverage of the event.

Today we will see two-time NCAA defending champion men's basketball coach Billy Donovan from Florida. How many times will he be asked about his decision to go to the Orlando Magic, then return? Preseason SEC champions pick by "the other media," Tennessee, will be led by their flamboyant head coach, Bruce Pearl, and his star player from Kentucky, Chris Lofton. And of course, a great story line for longtime Kentucky fans is the arrival in the SEC of former Kentucky Wildcat John Pelphrey, who appears at 10:30 a.m. as the new head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

10:15 a.m. -- Commissioner Mike Slive has addressed the media members--the sparse few who are in attendance early this morning--touting the strength and accomplishments of the Southeastern Conference, as usual. Bottom line--SEC is good, the conference has done a lot of things, and most people know it by now.

In addition, director of officials, Gerald Boudreaux addressed the media regarding new rules changes and points of emphasis. Most of the attention regarding the new points of emphasis related to the coaching box. Boudreaux explained the situation that if the coach got out of the box and was "coaching his team," he'd get a warning. When asked what that warning meant, if they'd get one per game, one per half, etc., he sheepishly admitted they hadn't thought it all the way through and didn't have a game plan. If the coach got out of the box and was "officiating," or berating the officials, etc., he would get "some sort of discipline," even including a technical foul, from the officials.

One wonders--what other discipline would apply? Make the coach stand in the corner the remainder of the game? No halftime snack?

10:30 a.m. -- coaches and players will be here momentarily. We expect to see John Pelphrey of Arkansas make his first appearance at the SEC Media Days.

11:38 a.m. -- Lot of Kentucky flavor in the room, although Kentucky does not make an official appearance until tomorrow. Larry Conley, C.M. Newton, and John Pelphrey all making their presence known, along with the contingency of Kentucky media members who arrived a day before UK men and women coaches and players.

Pelphrey, of course, is the new Arkansas head coach, but spoke favorably sprinkled with Kentucky references. When speaking of how he intended to use a player, he remarked that it was "much like Tubby Smith used to do with Tayshaun Prince." He concluded his interview session joking that his Mom wasn't very happy with him (at Arkansas). A couple of whispered comments were heard that perhaps he was preparing for the Kentucky job, incubating or interning, if you will, at Arkansas. Was that a blue tie he was wearing?

1:58 p.m. -- The big event of the day--lunch--has concluded, and the afternoon interview sessions are about to commence. Lunch was chicken breast, pulled barbeque pork, and some other stuff. The peach cobbler was especially good.

Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee are on the agenda this afternoon. Can't wait to see Bruce Pearl, Pat Summitt and preseason SEC Player of the Year, Chris Lofton.

2:30 p.m.--Coach Pearl is surrounded. Being the preseason pick to win the SEC and having the preseason pick for player of the year on your team will do it. But Pearl would be surrounded if he were the 14th man on a 13 man basketball squad.

Pearl entertained with comments like, "What's Florida ranked (in the SEC)? Sixth? That's about what the SEC usually gets in (the NCAA tournament). It's exciting that Florida is a bubble team." Probably not quite as exciting as Coach Donovan would like it, but you get his drift.

Pearl talked about the SEC East: "The SEC East is very competitive. But if you made me pick the team to beat....it's Kentucky." Of course, Pearl did not downplay his own team, either. After going through his history at Tennessee, and explaining why each year the expectations should not be so high (e.g., "we had four freshmen among our top eight players (last year."), Pearl admitted, "this year you should expect us to do well. You should expect this team to compete for the SEC championship."

Most expect Tennessee to do better than just compete for it, but as Pearl noted, the Tennessee program has never gotten past the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament.

2:45 p.m. -- If you'll permit me to reflect back just a moment, it just struck me. Coach Donovan last year and the year before discussed how his team had an intangible you couldn't teach, and was hard to identify. He said they were talented, but had something extra. This morning, a near-180 degree reversal has occurred, according to Donovan--although he didn't state it as such. "This year I'm working on things that I don't think coaches should work on," Donovan said. "I have to teach them how to play with heart and intensity."

2:54 p.m. -- More Kentucky flavor, Ole Miss guard Brian Smith--of course, son to ex-Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith. Look for KSR's Larry Vaught to have an exclusive interview with Brian later. Brian looked good--

Larry will tell KSR members about how ex-coach Tubby Smith, and his wife Donna, are doing in Minnesota--from Brian's perspective.

3:30 p.m. -- Legendary head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols, Pat Summitt, makes her appearance. Looking excited to be here, she draws a crowd from those media members still remaining. Most have left the premises by this time, writing their stories and/or preparing for the evening's reception.

Coach Summit has clearly embraced the men's program, just as the men's program has embraced the women's program at Tennessee. She spoke glowingly of Coach Pearl, and discussed their cross-marketing. "We're always around each other," Summit explained. "We see each other in our practice facility all the time." She also discussed how the cross-marketing works in recruiting. "We have men's and women's recruits in at the same time. We had a group of about 80, men and women, at my house the other day." Presumably she was including coaches, current players, and staff members, although you wonder with the combined energy level of Coaches Summitt and Pearl if it might've been eighty recruits instead.

Summitt understands marketing. The Lady Vol media guide this year, which has been outstanding from year-to-year, is another version. This year's title is "Treasure Hunters: Looking for Pieces of Eight." It's one of my favorites each season. In a short five-minute span, Summitt--who had the media guide prominently displayed in front of her--discussed how exciting it was for new coaches in the league (such as UK's own Mitchell), how she embraced women dunking (such as her own Candace), and how it was important to continually market the program. And she's one heckuva good basketball coach as well.

4:00 p.m.--This will conclude today's version of the KSR Blog from SEC Media Days. Stay tuned to KSR, as we'll have start-to-finish coverage tomorrow, which will include men and women's basketball from the University of Kentucky, among others. Thanks for being with us today, and see you tomorrow with continuing coverage of "Tipoff '08: SEC Basketball Media Days."

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