John Calipari can be a great coach with being an x’s-and-o’s mastermind

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On Wednesday afternoon, John Calipari called into Mike Francesa’s radio show as “John from Kentucky” when Francesa began criticizing Calipari’s ability as a coach.

Calipari had just finished a segment with Francesa when the New York City radio personality began telling his listeners how Cal is a “great recruiter, master motivator, he’s not a classic x’s-and-o’s guy”. This has spawned all kinds of discussion from college basketball media-types and decent helping of outrage from Kentucky fans that have taken to Twitter, comment sections and message boards to defend the leader of Big Blue Nation.

LISTENCoach Cal calls into Mike Francesa’s radio show as “John From Kentucky”

Me?

In our original post this morning, I called this a “fair critique”. And while I probably could have used a word other than critique — fair assessment probably fits better — I actually agree with what Francesa is saying.

But that’s not a shot at Cal or his ability to coach. Frankly, it’s closer to being a compliment than a diss.

Let me explain.

Cal is the best recruiter in the country. You can argue that Sean Miller and Bill Self have beaten him out for players in recent years or that Mike Krzyzewski has almost as much raw talent on his roster if you’d like, but I think you would have a difficult time finding a consensus that anyone in college basketball is better at luring in elite high school players than Cal. And when it comes to running a successful program at the collegiate level, there are very few things that are more important than amassing talent amongst your ranks.

Cal is also the best coach in the country when it comes to getting the players on his team to buy into their roles, which is not an easy thing to do. He’s getting McDonald’s All-Americans, kids that have been superstars and commodities since before they could drive a car and are expecting college to be a seven-month hiccup on their path to the NBA, to accept that they aren’t going to be the first option offensively; to accept that they may end up being nothing more than a screener, a rebounder, a presence defensively. Remember, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis were fourth and fifth on the team in shots the years they went No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA Draft. Marcus Lee was a top 30 recruit that essentially played walk-on minutes last season.

Do you have any idea how difficult that is?

And do you understand just how much a part of “coaching” that is? It’s why Phil Jackson has two fistfuls of NBA Championship rings. “Coaching” isn’t strictly about being able to diagram the best sideline out-of-bounds play or developing the best game-plan or creating the most intricate offense. That’s part of it, but it’s all meaningless if you cannot get your players to do what you want them — need them — to do to win.

Here’s the other part of it: the most talented team is going to win the majority of the time. Cal understands this. He doesn’t need to install a complicated offensive system or overload the already cluttered minds of the 18, 19 and 20-year old kids on his roster. He doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when his guys are better.

He doesn’t have to run the Princeton offense when his team can get a good look off of a ball-screen or a down-screen. He doesn’t need a playbook with 40 different plays and three counters on each play when his team rebounds 41.9 percent of their own misses.

John Calipari is never going to be considered a great x’s-and-o’s coach. He’s not Pete Carril and he’s not Dick Bennett. He’s not John Beilein or Brad Stevens or Rick Majerus.

But he doesn’t need to be.

And it doesn’t mean he’s not a great coach.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.