Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Calipari: 'I'd Like to Play 3 Point Guards'; Tobias Harris Visiting Kentucky
This interview with Kentucky Coach John Calipari at the “Summer in the City” event is the third in a series of interviews with Division 1 head coaches conducted at camps this summer.
NEW YORK — John Calipari has yet to coach a single game at the University of Kentucky and already the expectations are sky high.
After leaving Memphis in April, Calipari landed a recruiting class that many college basketball experts consider among the best ever assembled.
Four of the top 23 players in the Rivals150 for the Class of 2009 are coming to Bluegrass country — including the No. 1-ranked player, point guard John Wall, and the No. 2, forward DeMarcus Cousins.
And while shooting guard Jodie Meeks left for the NBA, big man Patrick Patterson returned to campus.
Is it any wonder that Kentucky is ranked among the Top 5 in many preseason polls — as high as No. 2 in Jeff Goodman’s Fox poll — and is being touted as a challenger for the 2010 NCAA championship?
“Final Four contenders,” Cousins told me in April. “We’ll beat Duke and North Carolina.”
Calipari is a little more guarded than his loquacious recruit.
“I’m glad people think that highly of our team but we’ve got six new players joining six returning players who went to the NIT, minus their leading scorer [Meeks],” Calipari said last Friday at St. John’s. “It’s a whole new style of play, a whole new attitude, changing the culture. [And] still throwing a tough schedule at them.
“If we’re as good as everybody says it’s gonna be a helluva run because we got a lot that we’re facing.”
Still, Calipari agrees that Kansas, which won the NCAA title in 2008 and returns a stacked team including point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, should be the preseason No. 1.
“I think they deserve it for what they’ve done,” he said. “I think people are guessing about us, but I appreciate the respect they show for the program by doing that. They’re showing respect, and I hope they’re all right.”
There have been concerns about the academic status of some of the freshmen, but Calipari said “John Wall is really doing well academically.”
Kentucky has already held six practices for the returning players to learn Cal’s dribble-drive offense, but the “six new guys haven’t seen it at all.”
The loss of Meeks, who averaged a team-high 23.7 points per game, detracts from Kentucky’s outside shooting prowess, and Calipari said 6-7 sophomore guard Darius Miller will see “more minutes” as a result.
In Wall, who was the subject of a complicated and drawn out recruiting proess, and Eric Bledsoe, Calipari landed two of the top point guard prospects in the nation.
He said he plans to play of them together at times.
“Eric Bledose and John Wall play together now and give you a ridiculously fast team,” he said.
In his offense, Calipari likes having multiple point guards on the floor and said you can really never have enough.
“I’ve done it before,” he said. “When we got Chris Douglas-Roberts [at Memphis], we also got Antonio Anderson…We’ve gotten too specialized, where you can’t play two guards. You gotta play one guard. Why?
“I’d like to play three point guards. This offense with three point guards, as long as they’re big enough to guard other positions. Eric Bledsoe is 6-foot in bare feet…but he jumps 40 inches or more. So wait a minute, how small does he play? He plays 6-5.
“So now all of a sudden you got two point guards that play big. Well, let’s get another point guard and we’ll play real big. Now you’re playing against zones, you got more playmakers.
“We’ll continue to do that,” he said. “Big guards mean they play big. They’re long, they jump, they’re athletic, they’re not afraid to go inside. They play around the rim.
“Derrick Rose is 6-2, 6-3, but he played about 6-6. And I had a big guard in Tyreke [Evans] who learned the position as the year went on and he was fine. We could’ve played with three Tyrekes at one time.”
If Wall jumps to the NBA after next season and Bledsoe returns, Calipari would still like to bring in multiple point guards for the 2010-11 season and beyond.
That’s why the ‘Cats are involved with Joe Jackson, Doron Lamb, Josh Selby, Cory JosephandKyrie Irving(pictured below).
“We’re recruiting point guards,” Calipari said. “If I thought we were losing both point guards, I’d bring in two. Even if we weren’t, maybe we’ll look at a guy and try to figure out where he can fit. We’re just finalizing all that, what we’re gonna do. But I do know this: If you want to win and you want to win big, and I’ve been on both sides of it, you have good point guard play and have as many of them as you can have and play them all.”
Up front, the ‘Cats have the 6-9 Patterson, the 6-11 Cousins and the 6-10 Daniel Orton, who initially committed to Billy Gillespie and remained with UK after Gillispie was fired.
“I think Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins can play together, too,” Calipari said. “There’s all kinds of different combinations you can use. Two point guards, two big guys. I’m anxious to see Patrick and Daniel when they come back and see where they are in their training and conditioning and all that stuff. The freshmen that we have on the campus really have a great base now conditioning, weight-training, skill. They’ve played a lot of pickup, which means they’re learning to play with each other.“
Kentucky is also set to play in a loaded SEC East that also features Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina. USC and UT both went 10-6 last year, while Florida was 9-7 and Vandy was 8-8.
“It’s ridiculous,” Calipari said. “How about South Carolina beating us twice last year, they told me. And you still have Vanderbilt, who Kevin Stallings might be one of the best coaches in the country. And he had a young team and they’re all back. They could be an NCAA Sweet 16 team. That’s how good they could be.
“Mississippi State [in the SEC West] has everybody back. [Jarvis] Varnado’s back so Mississippi State’s taken a step up. I think what you’re gonna find out is, the league could be a six-bid league. It’s based on the fact that veterans are coming back and teams are reloading more than regrouping.”
Still, the expectations are sky high, as evidenced by the fact that Calipari currently has more than 530,000 followers on Twitter (compared to the 800 or so I have).
“The fans the last four or five years, they’ve kind of been blah,” Calipari said. “I don’t know why. I wasn’t at Kentucky. Right now they’re so excited it’s ridiculous. At some point we’ll calm them down, but what people realize is [we have] returning players who were in the NIT, freshmen coming in who don’t understand and all of them together have never played this offense.
“I hope we’re the best team in the country but I have not coached them. I haven’t been on the floor with them. “I haven’t watched them so I don’t know.”
TOBIAS HARRIS VISITING KENTUCKY
Speaking of Kentucky, Long Island forward Tobias Harris is currently visiting the school on his way to the Nike Global Challenge in Portland, Ore.
“We are planning an unofficial visit today at Kentucky. We have decided on speaking with coach Cal to see what Kentucky is like before we narrow our list down,” Torrel Harris wrote in an email. “My college coach spoke very highly about coach Cal.”
Kentucky was not on Harris’ original list, but Torrel said Kentucky, Memphis, UCLA and Florida were trying to get in the mix.I guess they have.“Just landed plane was so small couldent sleep at all lol,” Tobias said via his Twitter feed.Harris plans to cut his long list at the end of the month.
Read my feature on Tobias here.
PREVIOUS COACH’S CORNERS:Arizona’s Sean MillerKansas’ Bill SelfFollow Adam Zagoria on Twitter.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.