January 8, 2010 9:36:00 AM
University of Florida men''s basketball coach Billy Donovan has watched his sport''s tradition grow in the Southeastern Conference the past 20-25 years.
He understands the league still has the reputation as being a football league first, but he believes basketball is catching up.
Donovan thinks the SEC''s 15-year television agreement with CBS Sports and ESPN can help strengthen that standing.
With only Mississippi State, Tennessee, LSU reaching the NCAA tournament last season, Donovan said the lack of exposure is the main reason.
"Last year was a year somewhat uncharacteristic of what the league has done as far as putting teams into the NCAA tournament, then moving on and advancing," Donovan said. "The feeling among a lot of people was the SEC wasn''t getting the attention and people weren''t getting to see a lot of the teams play."
That will change beginning Saturday.
For the first time in league history, each of the 96 conference basketball games will be televised.
Almost half of the SEC''s league games will be distributed nationally. ESPN or ESPN2 will televise 27 games, ESPNU will show eight, and CBS will show five. The SEC''s games on the ESPN family of networks will be exclusively branded as the "SEC on ESPN."
"What (SEC) commissioner (Mike) Slive has put together is something that really promotes and endorses our league," Donovan said. "It helps in a lot of different aspects for all the schools in terms of recruiting and bringing in good quality kids. We''re continuing to grow as a league and making strides to get better in that area, so I think all of the coaches are excited to what''s been put together and should be something that''s very beneficial."
On Saturday, the University of Mississippi will play host to Mississippi State and Auburn will play host to South Carolina at 12:30 p.m. in split coverage by the SEC Network (WCBI). Florida will travel to Vanderbilt at 11 a.m. (ESPN2), LSU will play host to Alabama at 4 p.m. (FOX SportsNet South), and Georgia will travel to Kentucky at 3 p.m. (SEC Network).
Georgia first-year coach Mike Fox knows the Bulldogs'' SEC opener at Kentucky will be challenging, but he likes the fact he will have a chance to showcase his program.
"The more exposure we can get the better it is," Fox said. "Kids get a great amount of exposure by playing in this conference, and they love to play on national television.
"This is a great league, and it''s a credit to the league office, athletic directors and those who had a big part in that TV deal."
In March, the SEC tournament will receive more exposure also the semifinals and championship broadcasts will be on ESPN on ABC. The SEC network will televise the first two rounds of the tournament, which will be in Nashville at the Sommet Center.
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said the television package should make other conferences a little jealous.
"Other (conferences) could only hope to have something similar to this," Pelphrey said. "Nobody is going to have something better than that, so it''s pretty special. It''s pretty unique for our schools and pretty valuable for our players."
MSU coach Rick Stansbury likes the fact that several days a week there will be an SEC game on television.
The adjustment comes when SEC teams have to play Thursday and Saturday because of the TV schedule.
"That''s going to be different and there will be some challenges," Stansbury said. "We have several Thursday-Saturday games, so we''ll see how that goes. In my 20 years, we are used to going Wednesday-Saturday. Everybody has to do it, so it''s fair for everybody."
n Kentucky''s fast start: The 15-0 record by the Wildcats is their best start since the 1969-70 squad opened the season with the same winning streak.
This is the fifth time in school history Kentucky has started a season with at least 15 wins.
After playing North Carolina, Connecticut, Indiana, and Louisville, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is surprised Kentucky is unbeaten entering conference play.
Although he hasn''t had the opportunity to watch Kentucky very much, Stallings likes how its freshmen have played. He also is a fan of Patrick Patterson.
Stallings said the Wildcats'' ability to sweep through their non-conference schedule will help the SEC.
"They have a lot to do with the perception of our league whether it''s good or bad," Stallings said. "It''s good right now because the perception and reality is they are very good."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said his squad is "very lucky to be undefeated" and really should be somewhere around 9-6.
Calipari said the Wildcats do "dream big," but he tries to take things slowly.
"I try to keep guys in the moment, not to look in the rear-view mirror or worry about the past," Calipari said. "I try to have amnesia and move on. I try to get them to play that way. This team is struggling with that a little bit. As guys miss shots, they seem to miss four in a row."
Calipari knows the level of competition will increase Saturday, and he hopes his team is ready for the challenge.
"We''ll be the Super Bowl for most teams and we''ll walk into sellouts," Calipari said. "We understand that. We''ve just got to get experience and play better."
Fox could think of easier ways to begin league play, but he knows the Bulldogs will face plenty of talented teams in the SEC Eastern Division.
"You''ve got to play them sometime," Fox said.
n Donovan recognized: Donovan will be honored with the John R. Wooden Award''s "Legends of Coaching Award" in April at the Los Angeles Club.
Donovan was caught by surprise when he learned he had been chosen for the award.
"I was very humbled, considering my age and looking at some of the other guys on that list that have received the award," Donovan said.
Donovan doesn''t take credit for the honor and said it''s a product of the players who have come through his program.
"The kids have done a terrific job of building Florida''s program," Donovan said. "Although I''m receiving the award, the players should be out there with me."