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Jimmy Dan Conner makes plea for Scouts

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By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

For Jimmy Dan Conner, a lot of things converge in March to make it a special time of year.

Conner, the former University of Kentucky star who was born in Bardstown and raised in Anderson County, visited his hometown Tuesday, his birthday, and chatted with folks in an appeal for the Friends of Scouting, a group that raises funds for Boy Scout chapters in the greater Louisville area.

The event was part of the local Friends of Scouting luncheon at Bardstown Country Club at Maywood.

“It’s a great thing and something I think we need to honor,” he said of Scouting and its traditions of community service. “When the Boy Scouts call, I just say yes.”

Conner, who played in the ABA and NBA, recalled winning Mr. Basketball and helping lead Anderson County to a Sweet 16 runner-up finish in 1971, his senior season, before joining the University of Kentucky’s final freshman squad during the last season of freshman ineligibility in the NCAA.

“I’ve had some interesting birthdays,” he said.

Connor, a member of Kentucky’s 1,000-point club, was not the only Mr. Basketball among that freshman squad, which also featured Kentucky standouts such as Kevin Grevey and Mike Flynn. Conner said some of the seeds of animosity between Louisville and Kentucky were sown in that 1971-72 season when the Cardinals had a pretty good frosh squad led by Junior Bridgeman. Conner said the Cardinals and Wildcats had just one common opponent — Cincinnati — to help settle the “who’s better” argument. Louisville had beaten Cincinnati by two one Friday night.

Three nights later, Conner said, “we ‘squeaked’ by, 127-57. Case closed.”

Conner proclaimed himself a fan of tradition, comparing his hometown’s distilling tradition to passion and tradition of the University of Kentucky hoops fan base. He remembered his first day at Kentucky, when all the new recruits were shown old film of Kentucky’s 1948 Fabulous Five NCAA championship squad running the fast break and were told “That’s how we run the fast break at Kentucky.”

Conner said he had high hopes for the current crop of Kentucky youngsters now in the Sweet 16, where they face Indiana on Friday with a chance to avenge an earlier loss. The current bunch, he said, is shaping out much like he expected from watching an early-season practice.

“I like these kids,” he said. Of Anthony Davis, Kentucky’s national player of the year candidate, “He’s off the charts.”

Conner credited Kentucky coach John Calipari for his embracing of the Kentucky basketball tradition, going out and visiting with the fans from Paducah to Pikeville.

“The essence of Kentucky basketball … it’s the people who support them,” Conner said.

Conner said he went to Houston last year on a fan charter to watch Kentucky play in the Final Four. Attending the games in that fashion gave him a better appreciation for the sacrifices Wildcat fans make to support their team.

One fan asked Conner how his bunch would fare against some of the recent Wildcat teams under Calipari, teams stocked full of pro talent.

“We would win by 20, because we couldn’t pass up an open 20-footer, and we hit about 52 percent of those,” he said with a smile