HOOVER, Ala. — More than 1,200 media members descended upon the Wynfrey Hotel for the 2013 Southeastern Conference Media Days this week, all the while filling their notebooks with quotes and anecdotes in preparation for the upcoming football season.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But in the midst of all this football madness, if you looked closely you could also find a man who has been tasked with whipping the league’s second-most popular sport into shape sifting through the crowd, shaking hands and chatting up writers and colleagues alike.
Mark Whitworth was named the SEC’s new associate commissioner for men’s basketball on July 10. Following a 2012-13 season in which only three of the league’s teams made the NCAA tournament, SEC commissioner Mike Slive created the position for Whitworth, with the expectation he will help enhance the SEC’s standing and reputation in the sport.
My colleague, college columnist Blair Kerkhoff, covered several aspects of Whitworth’s promotion in a story in The Star. It’s worth checking out, if you haven’t already. However, I also had a chance to catch up with the SEC’s new hoops czar and ask him a few questions about his background and familiarity with Mizzou hoops.
Here’s a few quick highlights from that discussion:
• Whitworth said his first priority, as outlined by Slive, is to travel to each school and meet with every athletic director and head coach.
“I want to get on campus, sit down with them and listen,” said Whitworth, who expects to start the tour in late August or early September. “They need to know they’ve got an advocate in our office every day. The commissioner has made it clear that’s my job. Whether it’s scheduling, officiating, game management, television, any of that … anything that impacts men’s basketball, I need to be mindful of.”
• Whitworth said he has worked for the SEC almost 25 years, 15 during which he was the liaison between the league’s basketball coaches and its television partners.
Whitworth is confident his prior relationships with coaches will help ease his transition into a new role.
“I have been the liaison to the men’s basketball coaches (and been) involved in their meetings, so these are all guys that I know,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth said he already has relationships with Missouri athletic director Mike Alden and men’s basketball coach Frank Haith.
“I know Mike and I know Frank,” Whitworth said. “In fact, I got an email from Mike today congratulating me on the job. And Frank has been a pleasure to work with.”
• Whitworth said he has been to Mizzou Arena before. In fact, he was there on Feb. 19 to witness Missouri’s 63-60 win over Florida, which was probably the Tigers’ best home victory of the year.
“I’ll tell you, that was probably one of the best atmospheres I saw all year,” Whitworth said. “And a great student section. They were terrific.”
In general, Whitworth appears to have a positive impression of Missouri’s program.
“I think they’ve got great tradition, their fans are passionate and their facilities are first-class in every way so from an SEC perspective, we’re thrilled to have Missouri in the league,” Whitworth said. “We think they certainly strengthen SEC basketball.”
• I couldn’t let Whitworth leave without asking him about the rising number of transfers in college basketball, which The Star’s Rustin Dodd covered extensively in June. Missouri, of course, has not been shy about accepting transfers, as Haith has brought in seven since he took the job in April 2011.
The subject was clearly one Whitworth wasn’t ready to touch, at least for now.
“I would hate to comment on that because I really haven’t been in a position where I can answer that with any great insight,” Whitworth said.
That’s one of the reasons Whitworth is so excited to hit the road in a month and meet with every coach and athletic director.
“Ask me in a couple months,” Whitworth said, “and I’ll probably have an opinion on that topic.”