Kentucky crushed NCAA field, but is it one of the greatest?


NEW ORLEANS – One shot.


That’s what Anthony Davis shot from the floor as Kentucky knocked off Kansas 67-59 in Monday night’s national title game. Mind you, that’s the National Player of the Year shooting 1-for-10. That the Wildcats were able to win this game in fairly dominating fashion — they were up by as much as 18 in the first half and 16 in the second half and never let the Jayhawks get closer than five down the stretch — without getting any offensive production from their best player should give you a sense of just how good this Kentucky team is.

Davis doesn’t need to score. His value to Kentucky goes well beyond his offensive production and his freakish ability to dunk anything within five feet of the rim. He earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award despite being his team’s fifth-leading scorer because he finished with 16 boards, six blocks, five assists and three steals in the final.

“It’s not hard to take a backseat, especially with playing with a great group of guys,” Davis said. “All these guys could play. I knew I was struggling. So I told to them, I’m going to defend and rebound, you all make all the points.”

And they did. Doron Lamb finished with 22 points. Marquis Teague had 14 points and three assists. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist chipped in with 11 and six boards. Terrence Jones had nine. All four of those guys will be drafted, and it could be as soon as this year. Darius Miller will get drafted as well. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist may end up going first and second.

Do the math, and Kentucky has six NBA Draft picks on their roster, and there is a real possibility that all six end up going in the first round of this year’s draft.

Kentucky set the record this season for number of wins in a season with 38, which lends credence to the argument that this group had one of the greatest single seasons of all-time.

But is this one of the greatest teams of all-time?

Frankly, it’s not a comparison that can be made. The reason that this championship is such a big deal is that it is not only the first time that Calipari has won, but it proves that it is possible to win a title by embracing the one-and-done freshmen.

But they are still freshmen. And regardless of how talented the freshmen are, they are not going to be able to matchup with some of the best players in the history of the sport when those players are upperclassmen.

Think about it: what would senior year Patrick Ewing do to freshman year Anthony Davis? What would Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon do to Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? What would the ’96 Kentucky team do to this team? I’m not even convinced that they would beat the 2005 or 2009 North Carolina teams. I think that the 2004 UConn team and the 1999 Duke teams would handle them as well.

Ten years down the road, we’ll probably look back on this team and wonder at the collection of talent that Calipari put together. Davis has a chance to be a once-in-a-decade talent. Kidd-Gilchrist has a chance to be an all-star caliber player. Jones too. But they are all young, no where near the player they will eventually become.

Back in 2010, Kentucky sent five players to the first round of the NBA Draft and Calipari said on live TV that it was the greatest day in the history of Kentucky basketball. His point was that those five first round draft picks would create a flood of talented freshmen entering the program. It would put them in a situation where they will always have the talent on the roster to compete for the national title. He believed then that it would lead to a dynasty, so to speak, where the Wildcats would field a different team each and every season that spends the year in the top ten and makes a run in the NCAA tournament.

With that would come their share of national titles, but he would be competing for those national titles with a freshmen-laden team year in and year out. In other words, Calipari is never going to field a team in Rupp Arena that will be legitimately considered among the best ever.

As long as he is hanging banners, that won’t matter.

Another offseason of NBA talk begins for stunned Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari will take a few days before having a series of offseason meetings with his young team about their futures after an earlier-than-expected exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari said he isn’t sure whether many of his talented freshmen and sophomores might return next season, or declare for the NBA draft.

“Until I sit down with all the guys, talk and see where they are with things and where their families are, I have no idea,” Calipari said.

They’re conversations Calipari knew were upcoming, just not this soon.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats could not take advantage of a clearer path to the Final Four paved by early round upsets of the South Region’s top four seeds. Kentucky fell 61-58 to No. 9 seed Kansas State in a Thursday night regional semifinal in Atlanta.

The disappointing season-ending defeat in which the Wildcats struggled to make shots typified the season for Calipari’s youngest group since his 2009 arrival in Lexington.

Kentucky (26-11) began the season ranked fifth in the Top 25 before dropping and eventually falling out. An up-and-down final month included four consecutive losses, the longest skid in Calipari’s nine-year tenure with the Wildcats.

They responded by playing some of their best basketball, winning four of their final five regular season games and rolling to a fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the No. 4 seed.

Kentucky’s quick improvement stoked hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run and perhaps playing for a ninth national championship next weekend in San Antonio, Texas. That expectation will remain as long as Calipari continues recruiting highly touted prospects.

Despite the early tournament exit Calipari said he took satisfaction in getting the Wildcats to play their best in the postseason.

“Individually and collectively, this was a rewarding year for me,” Calipari said. “I wish it could have ended in another week, but for me to see how individual players got better, for me to see how this team came together, for me to see (forward) Jarred (Vanderbilt) in, Jarred out, all the stuff that went on with injuries, they hung in there and played a bunch of freshmen. I thought they really performed.”

Calipari now moves on to offseason discussions to see which freshmen return and to what extent he must retool — again.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are projected as first-round NBA draft choices and possible lottery selections. Forward PJ Washington has also generated first-round consideration.

Hamidou Diallo — a redshirt freshman guard who nearly entered last year’s draft pool despite not playing at Kentucky — improved his prospects in the tournament and has been mentioned as a first-round possibility. Jarred Vanderbilt made his Kentucky debut in January after missing 17 games with a left foot injury and showed promise as a rebounder, only to sustain an ankle injury that sidelined him for the postseason.

Sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones improved but could return along with guard Quade Green and forward Nick Richards. Freshman guard Jemarl Baker recently began working out after having left knee surgery last fall. Sophomore forward Tai Wynyard played sporadically before being suspended for the second half of the season.

As he routinely does, Calipari will encourage his entire roster to work out with NBA clubs to explore their options. Then the coach will explore his options.

Dan Hurley calls coaching UConn a dream and destination job

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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Dan Hurley says he has landed at his dream coaching destination.

Hurley was introduced Friday as the University of Connecticut’s 19th men’s basketball coach, replacing Kevin Ollie, who was fired earlier this month amid an NCAA investigation and after a second consecutive losing season.

The 45-year-old Hurley, who left Rhode Island after six years and two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, has agreed to a six-year incentive-laced deal. He will have a base salary of $400,000 but will make at least $2.75 million in his first season, with supplemental income from media fees, speaking appearances and other perks. He could make up to $3.5 million in the contract’s final year.

He also has a chance to earn up to another $1 million a year for reaching certain athletic and academic goals.

But Hurley said the decision to come to UConn was not about money. It was about the opportunity to take the helm of a “storied program” that has won four national championships over the past 20 years.

“It’s a place that I always hoped I’d have a chance to coach and it’s like a dream come true,” he said.

Hurley, who played against the Huskies at Seton Hall in the 1990s, regaled the media with stories of being schooled on the court by the likes of Ray Allen and Chris Smith. Hurley said he modeled his coaching style in large part after UConn’s former Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and plans to bring back that hard-nosed “championship culture.”

“For me, that centers around being the hardest working, hardest playing team in the country,” he said. “That’s our goal from when you see us opening night in November. The product you see on the court, there’s not going to be a more connected team. There’s not going to be a harder playing team. There’s not going to be a team in the country that is more committed to winning.”

Hurley said he shared that vision earlier Friday in a meeting with UConn’s players. He said he hopes to have most of them back next season, telling them they can leave behind a much different legacy than they have now.

The Huskies went 14-18 this past season and 16-17 in 2016-17 after going 30 years without a losing season.

Junior guard Jalen Adams said he hasn’t made a final decision about his future, but was impressed with Hurley and happy with the hire.

“I know a lot of guys at URI and all of those guys rave about him, talk about how he’s a great guy and a great coach and he pushes you to the limits,” Adams said. “I think that will be great for me personally and I think it will be even better for our whole team. I think our team just needs to be pushed and needs someone who will demand them to be a champion.”

David Benedict, UConn’s athletic director, said there was never a question of whether the school would have the resources to hire a top head coach, and said it did not have to raise additional money from donors to fund Hurley’s contract.

He said there was a brief conversation with Hurley about the NCAA investigation, but it never became a roadblock to the hire. Hurley has the right, under the deal, to extend his contract by an additional year if the school receives sanctions such as a reduction of scholarships.

Benedict declined to discuss Ollie’s decision to appeal his firing “with cause,” which could impact whether UConn will have to pay more than $10 million left on the former coach’s contract.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t have done something that we didn’t feel was within our right to do,” Benedict said.

Former Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, who was a longtime assistant of Calhoun’s at UConn and was on Hurley’s staff at Rhode Island is expected to join Hurley in Storrs. Kevin Freeman, UConn’s director of basketball administration, was the only member of Ollie’s staff to attend the news conference.

Hurley said he plans to fill out his staff with a diverse group of coaches who can help him recruit in the mid-Atlantic region.

Hurley is the son of Hall of Fame New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. and the brother of Arizona State coach Bob Hurley. He said his last name has always been a recruiting asset in the Northeast.

“Coaches, families trust us with their kids because of the legacy my father has left as a Hall of Famer, but also as a community person who stands for the right things,” Hurley said. “I think nationally with the brand and our name, we could do a lot of good things.”

LaSalle parts ways with longtime head coach Dr. John Giannini

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La Salle announced on Friday that they are parting ways with head coach John Giannini.

Giannini had been the head coach of the program for 14 seasons, amassing a record of 212-226. Before taking over at La Salle, he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Rowan and eight seasons coaching at Maine.

“Today Bill Bradshaw and I mutually agreed that La Salle University could benefit from a new voice in leading the program,” said Dr. Giannini. “It is difficult to admit this but I have given every effort possible for success and I have received nothing but support and encouragement from Bill and President Hanycz. Greater things may be accomplished for this storied program and great university with the approach of a new coach. I am forever grateful, especially to my loyal staff and dedicated student-athletes. I look forward to my next challenge and La Salle’s future success.”

Kentucky clarifies ‘false reports’ they did not shake Kansas State hands after loss

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After Kansas State knocked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16, the purple Wildcats alleged that the blue Wildcats did not shake their hands after the game.

“They didn’t shake our hands,” Kansas State junior guard Amaad Wainright told ESPN last night. “It’s sorry.”

“They know what they did.”

Kentucky bristled at the allegations.

“They were turned and celebrating, so I walked off,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “There was no disrespect for anything. It’s just that they were celebrating, and I was happy for them.”

“My team’s not like that. There’s no disrespect in any way. They beat us. They deserved to win the game.”

NCAA amends rule to allow Isaac Haas to play

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BOSTON — The NCAA has changed their interpretation of the rule that kept Isaac Haas out of the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Haas broke his elbow in Purdue’s first round win over Cal St.-Fullerton, but he was not allowed to play in a second round game against Butler because his brace did not meet NCAA standards.

So they changed those standards.

“With ample time this week to review the intent of the playing rule, the committee decided to provide a more contemporary interpretation, while keeping health and safety for all players the highest priority,” said Gavitt. “Technology has improved materials used in braces, so now there will be more flexibility in applying the rule as long as the brace is fully covered and padded. Isaac and other players in similar circumstances should be able to play, as long as the brace is safe for all.”

Sources have told NBC Sports that, despite Haas’ lobbying to get onto the court, he is not expected to play on Friday night. If he does, it will be in a very limited capacity.

“He didn’t practice the last two days,” Painter said on Thursday, “and when you don’t practice, you don’t play.”

“I don’t see him playing until he can practice and show me he can shoot a right-handed free throw and get a rebound with two hands.”