Al Horford

Debate!: Who you got? Lute Olson or Jim Calhoun

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In 2008, Lute Olson retired from coaching at the ripe old age of 74, having spent the past 25 years taking Arizona from a West Coast afterthought and turning them into a national championship program that was a mainstay in the top 25 through the majority of his tenure. Just four years later, Jim Calhoun retired from UConn having built the Huskies into one of the nation’s premier basketball programs when no one believed it could be. 

Both Calhoun and Olson single-handedly built programs from the ground up and turned them into national players in locations where basketball wasn’t a priority. But here’s the question of the hour: who was more impressive? Whose is the better “program builder”? Raphielle and I will now do our best sports bar impression and argue this out. Hopefully, things stay peaceful. 

Rob: UConn basketball was nothing prior to Jim Calhoun arriving on campus from Northeastern in 1986. In their seven seasons in the Big East up to that point, UConn had managed to make just a single NCAA tournament and, when Calhoun was hired, were coming off of 9-19 season. Within four years, Calhoun had managed to win the NIT, take home the Big East regular season and tournament titles, and advance to within a Christian Laettner buzzer-beater from the Final Four. As of his Thursday retirement, UConn had won 10 regular season conference titles, seven conference tournament titles, made four Final Fours and taken home three national championships. Those 25 years are packed with more history and tradition than all but a handful of programs have managed to put together since James Naismith invented the sport.

Raphielle: When Lute Olson arrived in Tucson in 1983 the Wildcats were just five years removed from joining the then-Pac-10, and it would be an understatement to say that the Wildcats he found weren’t equipped to be a factor in the conference. That changed quickly. He took a team that won four games with little talent and pushed them to 11 in his first campaign, and from that point forward Olson would fail to reach 20 wins in a season just twice: 1986-87 and 2007-08. Like Calhoun with Bridgeport’s Chris Smith, Olson’s most important recruiting victory early on was keeping Tucson native Sean Elliott in the Old Pueblo. By the time Elliott was a junior (Olson’s fifth season) the Wildcats were in their first Final Four. From that point forward it was almost as if Olson ran a conveyer belt from McKale Center to the NBA, and a number of those players had a tangible impact at the next level. Olson won 608 games in his 25 seasons at Arizona, which works out to an average of 24 wins per season (24.3 to be exact), 11 Pac-10 championships, five Final Four appearances and a national title in 1997. And we can’t gloss over him taking the Wildcats to 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances (yes 1999 was vacated but that’s a bit silly) either.

Rob: I’ll give you consistency. The fact that Olson was able to get Arizona to 23 straight NCAA tournaments is downright mystifying. Calhoun had some ugly season mixed in with his national titles. But the key word in that sentence is “titles”. Plural. Calhoun won three of them, and while there may be some element of luck when it comes to his 3-0 record in national title games, the fact of the matter is that Calhoun was able to capitalize when he had the talent on his roster.

And while Olson’s track record of getting players to the NBA is inarguable, it’s not like Calhoun was winning with future all-Euroleague players. He sent just as many players to the next level. What’s most impressive about Calhoun’s pros is that there weren’t many that entered the program as guaranteed lottery picks. Andre Drummond was a pro, everyone knew that. The same with Rudy Gay and Charlie Villanueva. But Jeremy Lamb wasn’t a top 10 recruit. Ray Allen was overlooked coming out of high school, and he went on to become the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. Emeka Okafor chose UConn over Vanderbilt and Arkansas and went on to become national player of the year and the No. 2 pick. Ben Gordon was the No. 3 pick that year, and he was closer to a top 50 recruit than he was a guaranteed NBA all-star.

Raphielle: Oh here we go with the “titles” talk. Yes titles are important, there’s no denying that. But let me ask you something: which power forward are you taking, Robert Horry (7 titles) or Charles Barkley (0 titles)? There’s the flaw in that argument, because winning a championship involves a certain level of luck in addition to skill. Were there a few forgettable “one and done” trips for Olson? Yes, but to get your team to the tournament for 23 straight years is a major achievement. And in those 23 trips the Wildcats’ average seed was a 4-seed (4.4 to be exact).

As for the NBA talent we can argue that one all night as both programs have sent many players to the NBA to not just occupy a roster space but make things happen. But which school is known as “Point Guard U”? I’ve got love for Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury and Travis Best but we’re not talking Georgia Tech here. That would be Arizona, with players such as Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry, Mike Bibby and Jason Gardner have run the show at one point or another. When it comes to “unexpected” pros, how many thought Gilbert Arenas would become what he was (pre-idiotic gun incident) when he was in high school? And he’s got a nice list of off-guards/wings when looking at players such as Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala and Miles Simon (just to name three).

Rob: The Robert Horry-Charles Barkley comparison isn’t fair. Players are much different than coaches. The better comparison, in my opinion, would be who would you rather have coaching your team in the NBA: Pat Riley or Lenny Wilkens?

There’s no denying Olson’s success with point guards (can’t believe you didn’t mention Kenny Lofton in with that group). That also just so happens to be the only position where UConn doesn’t have a storied history when it comes to producing NBA players.

Thus far, we’ve determined that Olson was really good at putting together teams that earned four seeds and sent point guards to the NBA while Calhoun could develop off-guards, wings and big men while building teams that won titles. That right?

Raphielle: Pat Riley was the epitome of smooth, so I’ll give you that argument. I didn’t mention Lofton because he went pro in baseball; I’d think that his raw athleticism (didn’t play baseball until his junior year and ended up getting drafted despite limited PT) had more to do with that.

And I notice that you conveniently left out Olson’s title in your wrapping up of the discussion. That suddenly not count? Yes Calhoun has more, that’s been established, but do we really just say “well Lute produced point guards and 4-seeds”? Winning titles is about luck in another aspect: recruiting. If your school produces guards at a higher rate it’s going to be tougher land the elite big men that generally win titles at the college level (Duke 2010 being the most recent exception). Just ask Villanova’s 2006 team what happened when they ran into Joakim Noah, Al Horford and company. But back to Arizona, in the Final Four trips they lost the Wildcats ran into Stacey King (1988), Corliss Williamson (1994) and Carlos Boozer (2001). Those great big men at the pro level? Hell no, but they were damn good in college. All I’m saying is that in a one-and-done scenario you have to be careful to completely gloss over how much of a crapshoot the tournament is.

Rob: Changing gears a bit, the most interesting part about the debate between Calhoun vs. Olson is how similar their exits were. Both found themselves caught up in NCAA red tape (Calhoun because of Nate Miles and the APR, Olson because of the Cactus Classic) while battling health issues, which eventually became too much and resulted in a September retirement.

The difference, however, is that UConn ended up with Calhoun’s “coach-in-waiting” — Kevin Ollie — getting a chance at the job, while Mike Dunlap couldn’t work things out with the Arizona brass to take over for Olson. It worked out for the Wildcats, however, as their interim coach led them to the Sweet 16 (quite Olson-esque, eh?) before Sean Miller took over and became arguably the best recruiter in the country this side of Coach Cal.

More institutional pull = better coach, right?

Raphielle: Yeah but Calhoun also finished out “in his office” so to speak, so I wouldn’t be so quick to make that correlation. More difficult to have a say when you’re not around on a consistent basis. That led to Olson not getting his wish of Dunlap being the man more than anything. Arizona mishandled that situation for three years and frankly lucked out that Sean Miller was available (oh, he landed Rondae Jefferson today). And Ollie got a 1-year contract, which while it’s something that he’s more than used to given his NBA career it’s not the best situation to have on the recruiting trail. So sure Calhoun “won” in getting his guy the job, but we’re really not going to know how big of a win it is until next March when their season ends and Ollie is evaluated.

So who’s got the “juice”? Guess we’ll agree to disagree on this one.

John Calipari’s Dominican National Team one win away from Olympics

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John Calipari has a chance to add another notch to his belt in 2012.

He already won a national championship and saw six of his players get selected in the NBA draft, but he has been focused on Olympic qualifying, where he has the Dominican National Basketball Team one win away from its first ever berth in the Olympics.

The Dominican Republic erased a 20-point first-half deficit to beat Macedonia, 86-76, in the Olympic qualifying quarterfinal Friday night.

Calipari’s team now faces the winner of the last quarterfinal game, Lithuania, in the semifinal. Russia and Nigeria meet in the other semifinal.

A win in the semifinal or the consolation game Sunday would place the Dominican Republic in the London field.

The Dominican team features Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford, who had 14 points in the win over Macedonia, along with former Louisville guard Edgar Sosa.

Sacramento Kings guard Francisco Garcia led the way with 28 points Friday night.

Ronald Ramon, formerly of the University of Pittsburgh, added 13 points.

Calipari and the Dominican National Team grabbed the headlines before the qualifying tournament after it was announced that rising high school sophomore Karl Towns would be part of 2012 roster.

Towns, rated by many as the top player in the Class of 2015, has played sparingly in this tournament, but the team as a whole is proving that they might have what it takes to punch a ticket to London.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Kentucky and North Carolina could make NBA draft history Thursday night

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Kentucky and North Carolina are poised to make history at Thursday night’s NBA draft.

Both teams will likely see four players selected in the first round, marking the first time since the NBA debuted its two-round format in 1989 that two teams have accounted for eight of the total picks in the first round.

The night should begin with Kentucky blue, as Anthony Davis is projected as the No. 1 overall pick to the New Orleans Hornets. Teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should follow shortly thereafter to Charlotte at No. 2 or Washington at No. 3.

Sophomore forward Terrence Jones should be selected somewhere at the end of the lottery or in the middle of the first round. Guard Marquis Teague will likely be selected toward the later end of the first round.

Kentucky is sending six players total, with Doron Lamb and Darius Miller included, but not all are projected to go in the first round.

“My hope is all six, but I don’t know,” Calipari told SI.com earlier this month. “I would be surprised if four are not. I would say four are locks and the other two have to go work out.”

For North Carolina, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and Kendall Marshall are all likely going in the first round.

Barnes will lead the pack, with Henson, Zeller and Marshall following.

The only time in recent memory that two teams came close to supplying four players each in the first round was in 2007, when Florida and Ohio State both had three players chosen.

Included in that draft were Joakim Noah, Greg Oden, and Al Horford.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Is Karl Towns going to get playing time for the Dominican Team?

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Late in May, we wrote about John Calipari’s decision to include Karl Towns on the Dominican National Team, which Cal is coaching during Olympic qualifying.

For those that are unaware, Towns is currently the most highly-regarded recruit in the Class of 2015 (kids that will be high school sophomores in the fall) and, quite obviously, one of Kentucky’ main targets.

It’s genius, really. Cal will be able to coach Towns throughout qualifying, which is a pretty good way to build a relationship with him. Advantage: Calipari.

The thinking was that this would be a great opportunity for Towns as well, because he would get a chance to battle with current NBA players like Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva. The latter is no longer true, however, as Villanueva was cut from the team by Calipari today for being out of shape:

“Charlie was not in good form when we saw him,” Calipari said to Deportes en la Z.

“He was overweight, and unfortunately, we could not slow down the entire team and it was a decision taken collectively.

“Last year, Charlie behaved really well with us and his only problem was his weight.

“An NBA player like him deserves respect and for respect, we have taken this decision.

“I enjoyed coaching him a lot.

“He is a great player.”

The Dominican team still has quite a bit of size — Horford is playing, as will Spanish League members Eulis Baez and Josh Asselin and current Sacramento King Francisco Garcia.

But without Villanueva on the roster, will this open up minutes for Towns to see some action? And if this kid, as a sophomore-to-be, can compete with professionals at the highest level of international play, what does it say about his potential three years down the road?

Taking over the Dominican National Team is looking like a great decision by Calipari.

Photo via NJ.com.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Karl Towns is another example of why Coach Cal is the best

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High school basketball has two major stars right now.

Rising senior Jabari Parker, a small forward from Chicago, is fresh off of gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, where he was called the best high school player since LeBron. Andrew Wiggins, a rising junior playing his high school ball in West Virginia, is a kid that many people believe may actually be better than Parker. Every coach in the country goes to sleep dreaming about getting one of these two kids to wear their school’s colors.

But there is another phenom coming through the high school ranks. He goes by the name Karl Towns, and he’s a 6-foot-11 center that started and averaged a double-double for New Jersey powerhouse St. Joseph’s in Metuchen. He’s also a 16 year old freshman.

How good is Towns?

“He’s the best player in the Class of 2015,” said CBSSports.com recruiting analyst — and pomade expert — Jeff Borzello said.

But does that mean that Towns is good enough to play on the Dominican National Team? I’ve seen Towns play. He’s going to be a very, very good basketball player. He’s not only a rebounder and a shot-blocker, but he’s able to step out and knock down a three. The problem? He’s 16. He’s not physically mature. He doesn’t have a well-developed low-post game. He’s not ready to compete against some of the world’s best players.

So why is he on the team?

Well, in my mind, it’s simple: John Calipari is coaching the Dominican team. Calipari is also recruiting Towns to play his collegiate ball at Kentucky. It would only make sense for him to put Towns on the team. A chance to legally and get to know him? Calipari would be a fool not to include him.

And, along those same lines, Towns would be a fool not to accept the invitation. Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva will be the likely starters for this Dominican team. You don’t think Towns is going to get better attending Calipari’s practices where he will be going up against two NBA all-stars? You don’t think it will benefit him experiencing a high-level of international basketball?

“I want people to know he made it for his ability, not because of who the coach is,” Karl Towns Sr. told Jeff Eisenberg of The Dagger. That may be true. Maybe Calipari is planning for the future. Maybe the Dominican team does not have much front court depth. Maybe I just saw Towns on a day when he was tired or didn’t play well.

But regardless of whether or not Towns is good enough right now to play on this Dominican team isn’t the point.

There was no way he was going to get cut.

This is just another example of why Coach Cal is ahead of the curve on everyone when it comes to recruiting. You don’t think Cal knew about this kid when he made the decision to coach the Dominican team? Just like the game he scheduled at Cowboys Stadium for the 2013-2014 season had nothing to do with his efforts to pull the Harrison twins out of Texas?

There is a reason that Cal is so good at what he does. This is it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_OINK2rk0M&w=640&h=360%5D

Photo via.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Comparing Kentucky to other champs who replaced everything

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Now the all five of Kentucky’s underclassmen stars are officially headed to the NBA (along with senior Darius Miller), it’s time to marvel at the production coach John Calipari must now replace.

Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and Miller represented93 percent of the Wildcats’ scoring, 94 percent of their rebounds, 95 percent of their blocks, 96 percent of their steals and 96 percent of their assists. Those are simply staggering numbers, per Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal. (He has a complete listing of those totals and by player.)

It’s not anything new for a champion to lose a hefty amount of production. In just the last 10 years, at least four teams have been in the same position.

The 2005 Tar Heels lost their top seven scorers (Sean May, Rashad McCant, Ray Felton, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams and Jackie Manuel), but those players “only” accounted for 84 percent of the team’s scoring. (David Noel and Reyshawn Terry managed to get on the scoreboard.) Those seven did account for massive amounts of rebounds (93 percent), but nothing else was above 83.

When Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Frasor and Danny Green, it wasn’t nearly the same amount of attrition.

Kansas lost 80 percent of its scoring from its 2008 title team (Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun), but returned a sixth man in Sherron Collins and a big man who played a key role in the Final Four in Cole Aldrich.

Even the back-to-back Florida champs didn’t have replace as much even though it also lost its six top players (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard and Corey Brewer). Those six accounted for 83 percent of the scoring, 77 percent of the rebounds, 81 percent of the assists, 81 percent of the steals and 87 percent of the blocks. (Having Marreese Speights, Walter Hodge and Dan Werner helps).

Kentucky will probably be similar to ’06 UNC and Kansas. Both of those teams made the NCAA tournament the following season (Kansas was 27-8, won the Big 12 and reached the Sweet 16; UNC was 23-8 and second in the ACC). Florida (24-12) and the 2010 Tar Heels (20-17)  were in the NIT. The Wildcats’ incoming class – which will likely still add another impact newcomer – has elite players ready to step in at every position. And we’ve already learned that Calipari excels at replacing entire rosters.

It’ll undoubtedly look different, though. When you’re replacing everything, that can’t be helped.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.