You thought I was talking about Rick Pitino? Please. Come on. Just come on. Only Bruce Pearl, head coach/ruckus-bringer at head Kentucky rival Tennessee, could get a bunch of people in Mason County, Kentucky to sing “Rocky Top” and wear Vols’ orange. The Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton Reports:
As Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl entered the Mason County Fieldhouse last night, the high school pep band began playing Rocky Top. More than 1,000 Kentuckians, many wearing orange T-shirts, stood and shook orange-and-white pompoms in rhythm with the music.
As Flo Allen, a retiree in this Ohio River town, shook her pompoms, she said, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Disbelief seemed appropriate with Pearl, who directs the program once led by arch-Kentucky villain Ray Mears, being treated as visiting royalty. Appearances at the Maysville Rotary Club and a later public talk in the Fieldhouse sparked five standing ovations.
Mason Countians bore him gifts: a key to the city and a tie bearing the name “Maysville” from Mayor David Cartmell.
Noting the “great political peril,” State Rep. Mike Denham presented Pearl with a certificate making him a Kentucky Colonel.
How did this happen? While most have to wait 6-8 weeks and pay $15 to be named a Kentucky Colonel, Pearl earned the distinction simply by playing Chris Lofton (above) — a former Mason County High School star who, after not being recruited at Kentucky, wound up at Tennessee. Maysville loves Lofton, Lofton plays at Tennessee, and so Maysville loves Tennessee and, by association, Pearl. Predictably, perhaps, Kentucky fans are outraged and confused. The strangeness of all this — beginning with the fact that Pearl didn’t recruit Lofton and extending to the fact that Pearl has previously gone out of his way to antagonize Kentucky — are noted by Josh Weill at A Sea of Blue:
(L)oyalty is all this is, as a favorite son has found his calling on the other side of an imaginary state line. However gaudy and overzealous the people of Mason County’s actions are — and they are a bit much — calls for action and letter writing only further cement in people’s minds that Kentucky fans are an overly sensitive bunch whose passion could be easily mistaken for self-righteousness.
Perhaps most interesting is that Lofton himself has more or less absolved himself of the whole thing. After returning to Rupp Arena, the location of his greatest prep triumphs, to stick a dagger in the heart of the Wildcats with a 31-point performance that sent the Cats even deeper into a tailspin, Lofton was serene, not strutting. As usual, it was the fans getting caught up in the process, not the kids themselves.
For the record, Tubby Smith has expressed regret that he didn’t pursue Lofton harder, but hindsight is always 20/20. One thing is clear, though. Tubby won’t be making that mistake again.
He has already offered a scholarship to 2008 Mason County forward Darius Miller.