'New' NIT is better event than in recent past

NEW YORK – C.M. Newton, the former Alabama and Vanderbilt head coach and Kentucky athletics director, mentioned that one of the reasons he finally got out of coaching and into the AD business was because of guys like Travis Ford and Andy Kennedy.

He was jokingly referring to the fact that he recruited both to play for him and both went elsewhere.

It was all in good fun, of course, as the "new" NIT put its best foot forward here today in several events and functions, the highlight being a noon press conference in the Broadway Room of the Marriott Marquis overlooking Times Square.

"Coach Newton and I go way back, and he recruited me out of high school," said Kennedy, the Louisville High School product who chose North Carolina State and trasnferred to Alabama-Birmingham where his career flourished but rejected the offer from Newton. "That was one of many poor decisions I made throughout the course of my lifetime, Coach."

Kennedy played in the NIT in Madison Square Garden in 1989, his UAB team losing to St. John's in the semi-finals.

"I still have fond memories of playing in the Garden and the experience that it was," said Kennedy, who also coached Cincinnati in that building as interim head coach of the Bearcats two years ago in the Big East Tournament. "I'm hopeful our guys are creating the memories for themselves like I had, and we're thankful for this opportunity."

It's an opportunity that has taken on a whole new meaning for this storied, old event, now in its 71st year. Newton, the Selection Committee Chair of the NIT, said it is an exciting time to be involved.

"The NIT has been restructured, and I don't think sometimes people are aware of what all has taken place," said Newton, mentioning the NCAA oversees the NIT now. "We have the field at a perfect number for us at 32. There are no play-in games. And we honor as our automatic qualifiers the conference champions who for whatever reason are not selected to the NCAA Tournament, that perhaps they lose in their conference tournament and aren't selected as an at-large team to the NCAA Tournament. We had nine of those this year in the NIT."

Newton said the following have made the NIT a better event:

The teams selected now are eager to be in the tournament again.

The teams, press, and fans all know who plays in it, and who they play. There is much more interest.

There are great crowds now at the campus sites.

The quality of teams in the tournament is high.

The NCAA has decided to make this event financially feasible.

The fact that a member of the ESPN family televises every game of the tourney.

"Again, we're not the NCAA Tournament. That is in a league by itself," Newton said. "But this championship has been restored and restructured to become a true national tournament. Come Thursday night we'll crown a great champion."

Also on the platform with Newton and Kennedy were the other head coaches in the field - Billy Donovan of Florida, Thad Matta of Ohio State, and Travis Ford of UMass.

"I congratulate four real quality teams and coaches for earning their way to New York City and playing for the National Invitation Tournament championship," said Newton, "and we're delighted that they're here."


The Rebels relaxed this morning around the hotel and Times Square.

This afternoon the Rebels held a closed practice at the New York Athletic Club.

Tonight coaches and players will attend a reception at The Boat House in Central Park.

More from NYC later.

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