Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kentuckian of the Year: Honorable Mention

Once again, it's time to identify the Kentuckian of the Year.  Before getting to this year's winner, here are three Kentuckians who deserve Honorable Mention.

Aaron Harrison of Lexington.  This video, showing Aaron Harrison's late three-pointers against Louisville, Michigan, and Wisconsin in last year's NCAA Tournament, pretty much speaks for itself.  For Kentucky sports fans, the big story of last year was UK's miraculous run through the NCAA Tournament.  Every single player on the UK team, as well as Coach Calipari, deserves to be mentioned for their role in that epic series of games.  But Aaron Harrison's late-game heroics, which surpass any similar performance I can remember in the history of the NCAA Tournament, are particularly worthy of acclaim.  And that wasn't all the Houston phenom did this year.  He and his brother Andrew returned for their sophomore seasons, and all they've done so far is lead the Cats to a 13-0 record and the number-one ranking.  All of us here at the Heath Post wish Aaron Harrison and his mates the very best of luck in the New Year.

Russ Smith of Louisville.  The first time I remember seeing Russ Smith on the basketball court, it was December 2011 and he was a sophomore coming off the bench in Rupp Arena where his Louisville Cardinals were in all kind of trouble against a UK team that went on to win the National Championship.  I didn't expect much from a 6-foot tall substitute, but I was wrong.  Here's what he did:  27 minutes, 10-20 from the field, 7-10 from the line, 30 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.  But that was only the beginning.  Russ Smith led U of L to the Final Four in 2012, he led them to the National Championship in 2013, and he led them to a record of 31-6 last year.  Ken Pomeroy, the college basketball stats guru, came up with his own formula to identify the best players in the game.  For the 2013 season, Pomeroy's methodology said that Russ Smith was the top player in the country.  For the 2014 season, Pomeroy's rankings again had Russ Smith at the top of the list.  Smith was also an AP First Team All-American in his senior season -- the first Cardinal to receive this honor since 1994, and only the seventh Cardinal ever to do so.  Personally, I was very glad not to see him out there when the Cats and Cardinals met last week, and to me his absence was palpable throughout the game.

Governor Steve Beshear of Dawson Springs.  This year, smart people in New York and Washington have spilled a lot of ink about whether it makes any sense for Democrats to bother contesting elections in the rural South.  Maybe they should pay more attention to the career of Governor Beshear.  In 2007, Beshear was elected in a blowout, beating the incumbent Republican, Ernie Fletcher, by 58.7 percent to 41.3 percent.  In that race, Beshear carried every county west of Morgantown.  Four years later, Kentuckians were complaining about President Obama, had just sent Rand Paul to the Senate, and were voting for Tea Party candidates in Congress.  Beshear ran as an unapologetic supporter of Obamacare, defended traditional Democratic economic policies, presented himself as a fighter for the little guy, and cruised to an even easier victory.  He took 55.7 percent of the vote, to only 35.3 percent for Republican David Williams (Independent Gatewood Galbraith took 9 percent).  While 2014 wasn't a great year for the Democrats, Beshear's implementation of Obamacare garnered favorable coverage across the nation, and the Democrats managed to keep control of the State House of Representatives -- making Kentucky one of the few Southern states where the Democrats hold the more populous branch of the legislature.  Meanwhile, a poll taken last fall showed that Kentuckians approve of Beshear's performance by 50-29.  Not very many politicians reach their prime at 70, but Beshear seems to have managed the trick.

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