And just like that, the Alex Legion era at Kentucky is over. It was a quick turn of fortune for Legion and Kentucky as a relationship that just a week ago seemed to be flourishing….decent amount of playing time, probablity of a heightened role in the future, went from seemingly good to in the pits over a span of four days that left all the participants shaking their head in absolute wonder. The story of Legion’s time at UK will unfortunately be remembered as a combination of a demanding coach, a somewhat immature player and a meddling mother that led to a perfect storm that boiled over on one December weekend in Lexington.
The story of Legion’s departure began with a meeting late last week between Coach, player and mother. As an initial matter, that sentence should immediately raise eyebrows on every reader’s face. When parents are heavily involved in the child’s team relationship, the result is almost never good, and this situation was no different. We originally heard the meeting took place on Thursday, but Billy Clyde confirmed tonight it was Friday. According to the folks I talked to tonight, during the meeting, Legion’s mother expressed frustration over the way that Gillispie managed the team, specifically that she believed he was too tough on the players. According to the person I talked to, Legion’s mother would often express dissatisfaction about the language used by Gillispie and how tough he was on the players. Through the course of the meeting, much was discussed and those around the team believed the air had been cleared and the problems worked out.
Fast forward to Saturday. If you were around press row or the family section, you couldnt miss the groaning from members in the crowd. Specifically the father of one player who has been notorious in his criticism and Legion’s mother were vocal about the role their children were playing on the team. Legion’s mother was heard by multiple people expressing her displeasure and letting folks know her feelings on the matter. I only heard one comment due to my seat being elsewhere, but those close said that the criticism continued throughout the game. Legion checked in with ten minutes to go, after the crowd chanted his name and proceeded to play on and off for the rest of the game.
Then we move to today when Legion did not show up for practice and departed the team. The news broke around 4 that Legion was transferring, but even the Coach was not for sure about the details at the time of his call-in show, saying that he had yet to make contact with him. Legion however had already made his decision, and by the time contact was made, the Coach was unable to make him change his mind.
In the post-mortem of this whole thing, lots of overreaction has taken place on all sides. First, it is true that this transfer is a big deal. I dont think we can simply write this off and say “Kentucky didnt need him.” Legion is a great player and was Billy Clyde’s first solo recruit to take the floor. His transfer will be used against Kentucky on the recruiting trail and that is a reality that must be faced. Having said that, I think it is wrong to place too much blame on the Coach, or even the player in this instance. Coach Clyde is a stickler for effort and embodies a “tough love” approach that some thrive in (see Patterson and Bradley) and some wither under. Just because his first recruit may have left does not make that system a poor one. Similarly, I cant completely blame Legion or throw him under the bus either. Alex is a very smart and polite kid who is not the “thug” that some have made him out to be. He has had problems at his high school level with coaches, but his Oak Hill guys like him and I have always found him to be interesting and engaging. While he may not have been a good fit for Billy Clyde, he is not a bad kid.
I do however blame a bit of this on the culture that is around parts of the basketball program right now. Simply put, some parents need to take the Rock’s advice and “know your role and shut your mouth.” More than one player’s parents have been very vocal in their criticism and that type of behavior often spills onto the team. More than one current player is considering transferring and most of it stems from the behavior of their parents. Attitudes on the team need adjusting and contrary to what many people think, its not the usual suspects. In fact, most on the team should look at the much-maligned Seniors (especially Bradley), who have worked hard and complained little in the new system and the amazing ethic of Patrick Patterson who has been a beacon other guys should follow. The parents meddling has to stop, and in the same way that Tubby Smith essentially letting Michael Bradley hit the door helped that issue nearly ten years ago, Legion’s departure may do the same for Billy Clyde.
Its a shame that Alex has departed the Big Blue, but the reality is that such a transfer was bound to happen and more may be coming. New coaches often begat transfers as new styles are implemented and old ways are changed. However this transfer is especially difficult. Legion was not a member of the old regime, but rather was Billy Clyde’s recruit who came here to play for him. Losing him, especially considering his top-notch pedigree will have effects on this team and future recruiting. However his loss should not necessarily be blamed on the Coach or the player. I think it has more to do with the interference of a family member and a needed change in the culture of the team. I expect more change to come, and in at least one case, it could be a net positive for all involved. But until then, the rocks on the team will hold down the fort…..Patterson, Meeks, Jasper and yes, the Seniors. Their attitude should be the basis for the team going forward, and the background noise should be pushed to the side….and my guess is that it will.