Rumors already flying about Calipari

By Brian Rickerd Published:

Notes and quotes from another thrilling post-season for college basketball:

LEXINGTON — Kentucky basketball fans have been through all this before ... the rumors that their coach will be off to the NBA shortly after the NCAA Tournament.

Rick Pitino laid the blueprint for that in his last two or three seasons as coach at Kentucky in the mid ‘90s. Finally, of course, Pitino went off to the Boston Celtics, but not before a few rumor-filled off-seasons.

Now, we get the same with current coach John Calipari.

The latest came from a tweet Monday from former UK great Rex Chapman, saying that he had heard it’s a done deal that Calipari will leave Kentucky now for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The concern for UK fans is the source, Chapman — a beloved former Wildcat and solid NBA player, still with plenty of NBA connections.

Calipari was asked about that rumor twice following the Wildcats’ 60-54 loss to Connecticut Monday night at the national championship game in Arlington, Texas, first in his postgame podium press conference and then by TV analyst Jeannine Edwards.

Initially, Calipari said: “The Lakers have a basketball coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach. I’ve got the best job in the country. I’m not even going to dignify that stuff.”

Not exactly a denial. But when Edwards asked him about the rumor a few minutes later, Calipari was more definitive (meaning less condescending). When Edwards directly asked Cal if he will be the Kentucky coach next season, the UK coach replied, in so many words, that barring death (presumably stemming from pending hip replacement surgery), he’ll be the coach here.

I won’t be surprised if Calipari eventually tires of molding a new team every year at UK and wants to give the NBA another try, but I’d be stunned if he chooses the Lakers at this point.

The Lakers, for all their tradition, are a mess. The roster is ancient, and there’s no reason to believe it’s going to change anytime soon under the team’s current administration.

I’ve seen no reason to believe the Lakers’ ownership/management group is going to surrender significant control to anyone, including Calipari.

The only argument for a Calipari move to Los Angeles would be his friendship with NBA star LeBron James, and whether Cal could lure James to the Lakers via free agency.

But that seems like a stretch.

Expect Calipari to stay at UK at least until his son graduates from Lexington Christian Academy next spring, albeit with perhaps an even larger contract from UK.

The more interesting question in the coming weeks is how many underclassmen will leave off the current roster.

You would think Julius Randle and James Young will opt for the NBA Draft for sure. Who will join them? You could make an argument for Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, even Dakari Johnson. Marcus Lee? Hmmm, you wouldn’t think so, but...

Recruits already on board for 2014-15 are 6-foot-10 power forward Trey Lyles, 7-foot center Karl Towns, 6-5 off guard Devin Booker and 5-8 point guard Tyler Ulis, with more perhaps to come.

The most interesting aspect to me is how crowded the middle could be for Kentucky if Cauley-Stein, Johnson and Lee all return, joining Towns and Booker.

Other notes
Best game of the Tournament:

Easy: Kentucky over previously unbeaten Wichita State, 78-76, in a third-round Midwest Region game in St. Louis.

Both teams had brief lapses through the first 25 minutes or so, but over the last 15 minutes, I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen higher level college basketball.

It seemed, for a long stretch, like neither team could miss a shot. And it wasn’t for a lack of defense. Just great play after great play. Finally it was Coach Gregg Marshall’s Shockers who blinked inside the final minute, while Kentucky did not.

I believe that had Wichita State won that game, the Shockers would have gone on and won the national title.

Best player in
the tourney:

Have to give it to Connecticut senior guard Shabazz Napier, though I do think the consistently high rebound totals by Kentucky’s Julius Randle give me reason to pause.

Randle’s contributions don’t have the flash of a game-winning 3-pointer by Aaron Harrison or some pretty consistent production from James Young, but, Randle showed me something this post-season.

Honestly, in the interest of full disclosure, being on the road most of the way with Kentucky, I did not get to see as many games not involving the Wildcats as I do in those pesky NIT years.

Worst calls that went against UK:
This is a tie between the traveling violation that was not called on Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson with 15 seconds left in Kentucky’s Final Four semifinal game. The Wildcats were whistled for a foul, and Jackson hit two of three free throws to put the Badgers up, 73-71.

Second: The bogus charge call on UK sophomore forward Alex Poythress several minutes into the second half of Monday’s NCAA final. Poythress finished out his baseline drive with a basket that would have either tied the score or given UK a one-point lead. As it was, it gave me a bad feeling this wasn’t going to be UK’s night.

All that said, the Wildcats got the benefit of such calls for much of this tournament.

Funniest line of the tournament:
Only very loosely Kentucky related, I admit.

Last week, on the day that Minnesota’s Richard Pitino prepared to coach his Gophers against SMU for the NIT championship, a caller to Louisville radio station 790 AM said: “I hope Minnesota wins tonight so we can say Pitino did it with Tubby’s players.”

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