In the immediate aftermath of Kentucky’s loss to UConn in the national title game, there were some questions asked with regard to the future of the program. Of course there was the issue of figuring out which players would enter the NBA Draft (Julius Randle and James Young) and who would return to Lexington for another season (everyone else with eligibility remaining). But there was also the matter of determining whether or not head coach John Calipari would entertain thoughts of moving on as well.
One “theory” floating around was that Calipari, who has led Kentucky to one national title and three Final Four appearances during his tenure, would coach a Cleveland Cavaliers team that would hopefully feature LeBron James. James eventually made the decision to return to Cleveland, but in a story written by Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal none of that mattered to Calipari.
Even if he’d known that James would be returning to Cleveland, Calipari says he still would have signed the seven-year contract extension he agreed to back in June because of his commitment to the players who decided to return to school.
“They came back because it was good for them and their careers and they knew they needed more developing and coaching. That was by me. That’s what they wanted,” Calipari told the paper in an interview Sunday morning in the Bahamas. “So that made it a tough deal to say, ‘I’m just going to leave these guys here.’ With who? It may be somebody I don’t know that wouldn’t do the things for them that they needed to do.
“Now, obviously coaching at Kentucky is special. It is unique and special. But this, for me, becomes about these kids. I have no desire, nor am I out looking for (jobs). I got the job. I got the job. What would move me to stay was these kids need me here. That’s what I’m doing. At the end of the day, that was what (kept him at UK). It wasn’t money.”
Will the NBA question linger every offseason for Calipari? Who knows, and that could depend upon the possibility of landing with a franchise that has an elite player on board. As noted, there was no way for anyone to know in the months that led up to Calipari signing his extension that LeBron would return to his home state. And coaching a loaded team considered by many to be the early favorite to win the national title isn’t a bad deal either.
After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.
Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.
Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.
University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.
Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.
In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”
Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.
Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.
She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.
Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.