Published March 25, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – It's being billed as not just David vs. Goliath, but the kids who excel in the classroom against the ones who don't even go.
Cornell and its Ivy League reputation vs. Kentucky and its team full of NBA prospects.
A Cornell coach in Steve Donahue who's spent nearly his entire career coaching at the finest academic institutions vs. a coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, who's had a couple Final Four banners removed for transgressions that took place under his watch.
No, Kentucky's John Wall doesn't speak five languages like fellow freshman Eitan Chemerinski at Cornell.
Wildcat frosh Daniel Orton's class load - which includes geology, Music 101, History and Sociology 101 - doesn't quite compare to Chemerinski's slate of macro-economics, introduction to applied economics, freshman writing seminar and a science class on earthquakes.
But that doesn't mean these Kentucky kids aren't smart.
Patrick Patterson's set to graduate in three years. Sure, his degree won't be held in the same high esteem as that of Jeff Foote's diploma from Cornell, but if you don't think Foote would quickly change places and prefer to be a potential NBA lottery pick, you're nuts.
Wall may or may not have half the SAT or ACT score as anyone on the Cornell team, but trust me, he's plenty intelligent and has a 3.4 GPA.
Darius Miller and Jon Hood were both recruited by Vanderbilt.
Mark Coury would have more inside knowledge than just about anyone in the country about the two schools - given the fact that he transferred from Kentucky to Cornell.
Coury said the major difference is that UK has everything set up to succeed academically.
"I studied just as much at Kentucky as I do now at Cornell," said the 6-foot-8 Coury, who comes off the bench for the Big Red. "The players at Kentucky put in the work. There are in-house rules that freshman have to go to study hall for two hours each day."
The Kentucky players maintain they could care less about all the talk about the contrast in the two schools.
"It doesn't hurt," Patterson said. "It's just words. ... It doesn't affect us or faze us at all."
"It's the smart kids against the dumb kids," Kentucky's 6-foot-11 freshman DeMarcus Cousins added. "That's basically what they're saying. We've got to just play basketball. It doesn't bother me, though. It's stupid and has nothing to do with basketball."
Chemerinski won't get any points put on Cornell's scoreboard in Thursday night's Sweet 16 matchup at the Carrier Dome for solving the Rubik's Cube in less than three minutes, or for his 4.06 GPA.
This is a basketball game, not an academic competition.
Sure, the Big Red players have a superior academic resume, but that doesn't mean anything when Foote has to go toe-to-toe with the big, strong and athletic Cousins, or when Louis Dale attempts to stay in front of Wall.
"There's really no way you can simulate what he does in practice," Cornell's John Jaques said of Wall.
I love Cornell and everything about them. They have guys who can shoot the ball at virtually every position and a skilled seven-footer in Foote who passes the ball extremely well and opens the court for his teammates.
They have a terrific, underrated coach in Donahue.
But throw that smart vs. dumb argument right out the window.
Talk to Wall, Patterson or some of the other players before you make judgment.
There are plenty of quality kids with high character on this team. Sure, Cousins has had his share of blowups in the past and Eric Bledsoe may not come across in the same manner as Cornell's Ryan Wittman, but let's not paint an unfair depiction of this Kentucky team as a bunch of kids who don't care about academics.
"Just because we don't go to an Ivy league school, it doesn't mean our degree doesn't matter," said Kentucky senior Ramon Harris, who'll graduate in 3½ years. "For people to say that academics don't matter to us is kind of unfair. At the same time, we can't worry about it."
Instead, they'll just use it as motivation.