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.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.