Nichols gets big honor
The Class of 2012 in the Basketball Hall of Fame will have a Western New York flavor.
Referee Hank Nichols, a native of Niagara Falls, was picked for the sport's greatest honor. He will be inducted into the Hall in Springfield, Mass., in September.
Nichols worked many of college basketball's greatest and most memorable games. He officiated a record six NCAA men's basketball championship games and 10 Final Fours, including John Wooden's last game at UCLA in 1975 and the Michigan State-Indiana State final of 1979.
The club in Springfield, Mass., also includes two-time Olympic gold medalist Katrina McClain, four-time NBA champion Jamaal Wilkes, shooting guard Reggie Miller, veteran coach Don Nelson, college standout Ralph Sampson, and the All-American Red Heads -- the female version of the Harlem Globetrotters.
The newcomers were joined by five members of the class who already had been announced: Nike cofounder Phil Knight, ABA star Mel Daniels, seven-time NBA All-Star Chet Walker, Olympian Don Barksdale and Lydija Alexeeva, who led the Soviet Union to two Olympic gold medals.
"I was sitting on my back porch, smoking a cigar, when I got the call," said Nelson, a five-time NBA champion as a player and the winningest coach in league history.
"It was a great moment for me. I'm the luckiest man in the world," he said. "I've been involved with the game of basketball for over 60 years, and I've never had a bad day, even when we lost games. They've all been great days."
The 7-foot-4 Sampson was one of the most dominant college players in history, a three-time national player of the year who led Virginia to the Final Four. He was the first overall pick in the NBA draft and a four-time All-Star before injuries finally slowed his career.
Kentucky guard Doron Lamb says he'll make sure to breathe deep and follow through.
The rest of Big Blue Nation will exhale if the Wildcats can hit free throws against Kansas.
The inability to make the unguarded 15-footers was a key reason John Calipari's Memphis team fell to the Jayhawks in the 2008 title game. The Tigers went 12 of 19 from the stripe, including missing four of their final five in regulation with a chance to seal a victory.
Kentucky has made a Southeastern Conference-best 72.3 percent of its attempts this season, giving Calipari confidence.
"I have no issues with that whatsoever," Calipari said. "We'll be fine."