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Good luck, everyone — NCAA title won’t ‘change’ Calipari

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John Calipari maintains Kentucky’s 67-59 win against Kansas on Monday night isn’t that big of a deal for him.

For the program and the hoops-mad state of Kentucky? Oh my, yes.

But for Calipari, a coach on his fourth trip to the Final Four and who had the 2008 title in sight before one 3-pointer, his standard line all week was that a victory wouldn’t change him. It wouldn’t change how he approached coaching, recruiting or life. It’s just another win.

“I feel the same as I did before the game. I don’t feel any different. I’m not going to change who I am,” he said.

That’s actually a fairly standard line among coaches. Roy Williams said the same thing in 2005 when North Carolina gave him his first national title after four previous trips to the Final Four with Kansas. It was something Dean Smith ingrained in Williams and makes sense. One victory shouldn’t define you as a coach. Not in a season a season that can include 40 games.

But it does. And it’ll undoubtedly alter the perception around Calipari.

Not the negative stuff. That’ll never disappear. But any idiotic notions about Calipari’s coaching credentials should finally vanish like a clean look against Anthony Davis.

The Wildcats (38-2) were superior to Kansas in every aspect Monday night, from their defensive scheme to the offensive discipline and unselfishness. There was one hiccup when Kentucky coasted a bit and gave Kansas an opening, but a few adjustments ended that.

The notion that Calipari just recruited the best players, then let them play was always foolish. No coach whose teams post superior numbers year after year is lousy at his job. And to do so with a continually changing group of players, well, that’s not easy no matter how talented those players are.

He’s won using different styles of play, by adjusting to each group’s strengths and by motivating them as well as anyone in the game. Count Kansas coach Bill Self among the people who marvel at Calipari.

“They’ve done a fabulous job coaching their team. They share. They like each other, the appearance is.  And they certainly defend,” he said. “I don’t think their staff gets the credit sometimes that they deserve on how well they coach because they’re so talented”

Same goes for his players.

“It means a lot just because he gives us so much credit anytime we win and he’ll take all the fault if anything goes wrong. Just to win for him is something special,” sophomore Terrence Jones said.

Expect more of the same from Calipari. When his first season in Lexington ended with a 35-3 season and a spot in the Elite Eight, five guys went to the NBA. It delighted Calipari, who wanted more of the same. That’s an awfully canny move now.

“The reason was, I knew now other kids would look and say, ‘You got to go there.’ What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders on this team,” he said. “We were the first program to have five, let’s have six.  That’s why I’ve got to go recruiting on Friday.”

When Calipari wins on the recruiting trail, he wins on the court, too. That’s his game. Now that he’s got a title to use when he recruits, who’s gonna slow him down?

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.