John Calipari: ‘We’re chasing perfection’

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John Calipari missed out on the best prospect that has come through the high school ranks since he’s been at Kentucky, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Wildcats will enter this season as the No. 1 team in the country.

And it doesn’t change the fact that they are the favorite to win the national title, a fact that is backed up by Vegas. He still has the greatest recruiting class of the modern era at his disposal, and enough high school all-americans on his roster that his second five is probably talented enough to be a top 25 team this season.

Most importantly, missing out on Wiggins isn’t changing Cal’s outlook on the season. He’s still expecting greatness.

“We’re chasing perfection. We’re chasing greatness. We’re chasing things that have never been done in the history of our game,” Calipari said. “What I like about that, people say, ‘Pressure!’ Man, pressure brings out the best.”

“Now, I’m not sitting there saying, ‘If we los a game, it’s not a successful season.’ No. But you’re chasing greatness. What’s wrong with that? ‘Well, we want to talk moment to moment and we’re not putting that on the kids.’ Well, we are. Any pressure on these kids when they come here? It’s on us.”

I like that attitude. I don’t think that Kentucky is going to be able to go undefeated this season — not with the non-conference schedule that they’re playing — but there’s nothing wrong with striving for it. No one plans to lose games, and when you are the No. 1 team in the country, you should, theoretically, be the favorite in every game that you play.

The doubters will cite the disappointing performance that last year’s Kentucky team had, dropping to the NIT and losing to Robert Morris in the first round. But it’s important to remember that: a) Kentucky didn’t have a point guard that was good enough to lead them; b) the Wildcats lost their best player to an ACL injury in the middle of SEC play; and c) Kentucky didn’t have a leader last year.

As Cal put it, “The alpha males that we didn’t have a year ago, I think we have.”

I’ve said this over and over again: what made Kentucky so special in their run to the 2012 national title wasn’t the fact that they were overly talented, it was because their two best players — Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — were essentially complimentary pieces. They were glorified role players. Davis was a defensive force that dominated the paint on both ends. MKG was a junkyard dog, a defender and a rebounder that epitomized that ‘alpha male’ description.

Which players on Kentucky’s roster will embrace those roles this season?

If Cal can convince his guys to accept the fact that there won’t be any stars on next year’s team — that Julius Randle is needed to rebound, and Willie Cauley-Stein’s job will be to block shots and dunk, and that the Harrisons will need to be distributors and jumpshooters — than there is a chance that Cal’s goals of going undefeated could end up being realized.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.