‘Goose’ says Wildcats deprived of ‘Rupp Arena experience’

Jack “Goose” Givens, who helped lead Kentucky to the 1978 national basketball championship, lamented the unusual circumstances this year’s Wildcat team has faced because of COVID-19.

Givens, who scored 41 points against Duke in the 1978 NCAA championship game, earning him recognition as the Most Outstanding Player, spoke to the Owensboro Rotary Club on a Zoom meeting Wednesday. He also voiced his thoughts on the status of the UK season.

Givens noted this year’s Wildcat squad has been deprived of playing before a loud, capacity crowd at Rupp Arena.

“I think one of the unfortunate things is that these guys do not and have not gotten to experience to go through what I call the Rupp Arena experience,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you all that it’s one of the best basketball facilities and one of the best crowds, if not the best, in the whole country. It’s one reason you come to Kentucky. I’m sure each one of these guys got to see last year what it was like in Rupp Arena with a packed house. Unfortunately, they are missing that.”

Givens took the high road in his assessment of the Wildcat club, now 5-11 heading into a Saturday contest against Tennessee.

“One thing this team is missing that I think is the most important thing in college basketball is to have veteran players on your team who can teach you as a young guy how to play,” he said.

Givens expressed his desire to see the current players return next year not only to have the opportunity to play before a large Rupp crowd, but build on their talents.

Givens was frank in his assessment of the possibility of a dramatic turnaround for this team.

“I don’t see this team taking the kind of jump that other (John) Calipari teams have made in the past,” Givens said. “I hope I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen this group of guys come together as a unit like we’ve seen from Calipari’s teams in the last 10 years. I don’t see the passing, I don’t see the trust that you usually see in the last month of the season from Calipari’s teams. Can they get there — I hope so.”

While Calipari has come under fire for his reliance on one-and-done players, Givens said he understands that appeal to players, but noted he is “not a big fan of one-and-done,” he said. “It’s so different from the way I played. I would challenge any of you on this call to think back three years ago and tell me who the starting lineup was.

“If I’m a freshman and some NBA team takes me in the first round and I know I’ve got money guaranteed that could change my life forever, yeah I’m going to go too,” he said.

Anthony Davis was cited as an example. Givens pointed out that Davis already has had multiple major contracts since he went to the NBA. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out there’s no degree I can get at the university that’s going to pay me that kind of money to go to work,” he said.

On other topics:

–Givens said he doesn’t expect an SEC Tournament to be played in early March because of the coronavirus. Like most observers, he believes Kentucky would need to win that tournament to get an NCAA bid.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an SEC Tournament, I don’t see that happening,” Givens said. “The NCAA is going through so much to put guys who reach the tournament in a controlled environment, and I can’t imagine the NCAA saying go play in your conference tournament, and take the chance of bringing COVID into the bubble in Indianapolis. I can’t see an NIT tournament either.”

–Givens was asked to name the best player he ever competed against. He did name some familiar NBA greats, but his response as the best player he played against was Bernard King, half of the Bernie and Ernie duo at Tennessee. The player who trash talked the most? That would be Larry Bird.

He recalled a game when — on the night before the game — Bird told him he would run, even whether or not he would pump fake when he attempted a 3-pointer. Bird did exactly what he told Givens he would do.

–Givens, vice president for business development for a company that builds infrastructure for energy and communications businesses, is based in Georgetown. He says people need to understand the attraction that UK offers of playing one year and then advancing to the NBA.