If it’s not easier now to recruit against Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari, especially if he comes calling in Arkansas for some of the rising high school talent in the sophomore and junior ranks, then he simply can’t be beaten in the fight for blue-chippers; he can’t do any wrong.
Surely the tantrum he threw in Knoxville, Tenn., over the weekend — mostly over his team’s play in a 30-point loss but ostensibly over the efforts of freshman Archie Goodwin from Sylvan Hills — should give pause to any prep players thinking about being ’Cats.
For the record, Calipari said Saturday after the blowout loss to Tennessee he had a couple of players who wouldn’t take coaching. But during the game, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Calipari singled out Goodwin on the sideline and told him, “I can’t coach you.”
And that’s probably 180 degrees from the snake oil he was selling Goodwin and his parents a year and a half ago when Calipari landed the 6-6 guard.
The way it goes, Calipari convinces these prep superstars that he, and only he, possesses the coaching talent to prepare them correctly for the NBA. Never mind that his array of one-and-dones from the past several seasons are no better in the pros from a year with Calipari than they would have been playing for most any coach on any level.
It takes several seasons, not one, to mold a basketball player into not only a talent who can stand up to the rigors of the NBA, but also into a person who can stand up to life.
Take Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell, for instance. This week’s SEC Player of the Week noted how much these past two years under Coach Mike Anderson have helped him grow as a person as well as a formidable player who can score inside or shoot the 3-pointer consistently from the wing.
We haven’t yet heard Anderson utter “I can’t coach you” to any of his players — not that he has a Calipari lineup full of McDonald’s All-Americans to lead — and we won’t. Had Archie Goodwin not fallen for the salesmanship of Calipari and his posse in the fall of 2011 and instead stayed home, he wouldn’t have heard “I can’t coach you” from Anderson, but he would have been coached and developed, if he wanted it.
Part of Calipari’s frustration while watching his team ripped 88-58 by the Vols was knowing he wouldn’t have freshman shot-blocking sensation Nerlens Noel anymore this season. Noel tore a knee ligament in a weird tumble into a basketball support in the Wildcats’ loss earlier in the week at Florida. Kentucky, which lacks a true point guard or the great shooting of Calipari’s recent teams, was just beginning to show signs of coming together before Noel’s injury. While this UK group likely could not have put six games together like last year’s runaway champion ‘Cats, Calipari had to figure his team, with Noel as the defensive stopper, had a chance to make some noise in a tournament with the weakest group of title hopefuls we’ve seen.
Calipari has another five McDonald’s All-Americans coming in next year. He’ll be fine on the talent front. Archie Goodwin will go pro and nobody in the Bluegrass State will care.
Sometimes, all the talent in the world will gel and even a coach like Calipari can’t mess them up and they win it all — like last year’s Kentucky team. The players are adored by all the Wildcat fans, and their numbers are eventually raised to the rafters of Rupp Arena. But there are plenty of examples of what’s happening with Goodwin, too — if only people could see through the Coach Cal charade.
It’s hard, though. He’s a charismatic slickster. He’d make a great politician.
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Meanwhile, Florida again showed why it’s a risky pick to win it all in Atlanta in early April. The Gators collapsed at Missouri in similar fashion to the way they blew a game at Arizona early in the season.
The Gators have enough talent to mash nearly everyone on their schedule. Get them in a tight game in the last five minutes though, and they seem to fall apart. Notice how suddenly herky-jerky they became at Columbia last night when Missouri made its late run.
Only against Arkansas has Florida been completely rattled and wiped out from the start, though the Gators possessed enough shooting talent when the game was decided to make the final margin against the Hogs look more presentable (80-69).
In Tuesday night’s game at Missouri, Florida had control in the first half by 10, only to let the Tigers back to within 3 before halftime. Same story in the second half, as the Gators seemed in command with a 12-point lead under the 10-minute mark. But Florida stopped looking to Patrick Young inside and settled for jump shots.
This has been the same reason the talented Gators were sent home in back-to-back Elite Eights the past two seasons. On the verge of the Final Four, Florida resorted to all jump shots and tightened up.
No one doubts Billy Donovan’s ability to build a program capable of winning the NCAA Tournament, and he’s had enough talent to win it all twice in a row. This latest group, since the emergence of Kenny Boyton three years ago, also seems talented enough to add to the NCAA hardware but comes up short.
The senior Boynton hasn’t had to be the sole backcourt leader, and the Gators have adequately replaced Erving Walker, who is playing professionally in Italy. Florida gets plenty out of Scotty Wilbekin running the show and setting up the shooters. Yet, when Florida needed a tying 3 in the final seconds, Boynton found himself open enough and was tossing up an unusual-looking attempt from beyond the key. Even Donovan had to say, “It wasn’t what we wanted.”
At some point, one would think Boynton would get the picture. It seems like we’ve seen this before when those Elite Eight games came down to the wire the past two years.
Meanwhile, Missouri, which was still chafing at the way it lost at Arkansas on Saturday, turned a 31-point loss at Florida without Lawrence Bowers into a 3-point win with Bowers at home.
Arkansas (16-9, 7-5 SEC) visits Columbia on March 5. The Hogs meet what should be an angry bunch of Gators on Saturday, following a home game with Georgia on Thursday night.