Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Plenty of tantalizing combinations for Kentucky
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Kentucky coach John Calipari prepared to take a few days off from recruiting in the final week of the evaluation period, one thing he promised himself he wouldn't worry about was how the Wildcats will play next season.
Well, at least he's trying not to be too fixated about it as he cuts away with his family for a brief respite.
But it's hard for Calipari not to obsess over the different wrinkles available to him with the Cats.
"I don't want to create too much anxiety with my own body by spending too much time on this,'' Calipari said, "because you don't really know until you get them on the floor."
But he can't help himself. The possibilities are too tantalizing.
Calipari said he spent time with Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers here at the AAU Super Showcase discussing how Rivers used "two big guys and ball-screening like he does in Boston. I wanted to talk to him about some of the things he did when he went to that bigger lineup with two posts."
The focal post player for Kentucky is rising junior Patrick Patterson. The options next to him are numerous, led by high-profile newcomers Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins. But Calipari might not just play Patterson and one of those two.
"It might be Orton and Cousins at the same time to steal minutes for both of those kids,'' Calipari said. "I want Daniel and DeMarcus to get minutes. If we're trying to get them as many minutes at a time when Patrick's not on the floor you may have to play both of them, which is not all bad. But you've got to know how you're going to play with both of them on the floor."
Calipari, who under NCAA rules isn't allowed to watch the summer pickup games in Lexington, said he told incoming point guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe to not just go against each other.
"I told them to play with each other, too,'' said Calipari, who plans to use a lineup of two playmaking ballhandlers at times next season. The depth on the perimeter with Wall, Bledsoe, incoming freshmen Darnell Dodson and Jon Hood, and returnees Darius Miller (who won gold in New Zealand with the Under-19 team earlier this month), Ramon Harris and DeAndre Liggins gives Calipari a slew of combinations.
Meanwhile, Kentucky got out of a guarantee game against Coppin State and filled its schedule with one of the Big West favorites, Long Beach State. The Wildcats also have littered the schedule with the usual heavyweight names in North Carolina, Connecticut (SEC-Big East Invitational), Louisville, Indiana, as well as a tournament in Cancun, Mexico, that includes Virginia, Stanford and Cleveland State.
"What we tried to do is eliminate any teams that were 250 and above in the power rating,'' Calipari said. "Last year they had a bunch. My teams try not to play any of them. We try not to play any in that box (on the selection committee's cheat sheet that breaks down the schedule in 50-team power-rating groupings). At this point, and you don't know what will happen with injuries, none of the teams on our schedule projected to be in that range."
• Incoming Florida freshman Kenny Boynton was the final player cut last month at the USA Basketball Under-19 team trials in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was one of two high school seniors (the other was incoming Pitt forward Dante Taylor) invited but his inexperience on the college level likely led to him not making the team, which ultimately won the gold medal in New Zealand. Since then, the highly touted Boynton has been on Florida's campus taking classes at summer school, working out and prepping to be the Gators' lead playmaker next season.
"I thought it was a really humbling experience in a very positive way,'' UF coach Billy Donovan said. "Here's a kid that has gotten so much publicity and so much exposure and all of a sudden he gets cut. I think he would have loved and enjoyed the experience. But since he's been here everything has been going great."
• Rivers was interviewed on ESPNU on Monday and said his son, Austin, has a solid commitment to Florida. He said the familiarity with the Gators (the family has never moved from their Orlando-area home) and Donovan was the reason. Austin Rivers, who played here on Monday night, continued to show his ability to be a playmaker as a wing, bringing the ball up the court, scoring on drives and making mid-range jumpers.
• Siena finally got a high-profile team to at least play in a one-way, guarantee game next season. It took a former Siena coach in Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt to make it happen. Siena coach Fran McCaffery said the Saints will play at Georgia Tech next season. Siena, which should be the MAAC favorite and was No. 20 in my latest top 25 rankings, played at Kansas and at Pitt last season. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, still looking for a Dec. 16 home game, said he would consider playing the Saints in a guarantee game as well. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 12 in my top 25.
• How to hold on to commitments continues to be a pressing issue and has resurfaced yet again with the high-profile decommitment of Josh Selby from Tennessee. One idea that circulated Monday night that might be of interest to the National Association of Basketball Coaches to pursue is to get rid of the signing periods and allow a player to sign a binding national letter of intent within 30 days of giving a verbal commitment. The 30-day window would give the player a bit more time to ensure he has made the right decision. The other component that should be included in the letter of intent to get the document up to the current era is an out for the player if the coach leaves the school. Schools are less likely to fight a player's decision to ask out of the letter of intent if the coach is no longer at the school. The most recent example involved Xavier Henry. He signed with Memphis, but once Calipari left for Kentucky, Henry asked out of his letter and went to Kansas.
• UCF coach Kirk Speraw added a veteran assistant on his staff in Robert McCullum, the former Western Michigan and South Florida head coach. McCullum went 40-76 in four seasons with the Bulls, his first two while playing in Conference USA and his final two while in the Big East.
• Tulsa and San Diego State are discussing playing each other in early November, which would be the first leg of a home-and-home series. The Golden Hurricane should be the favorite in Conference USA, while the Aztecs are one of the top three teams in the Mountain West. A game like this is perfect for both schools -- a solid power-rating game that should help each of them toward their goals of reaching the NCAA tournament.
• If the favorites hold out, the semifinals of the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas in November could include four top 25-type teams. Northern Iowa is the projected favorite in the Missouri Valley and is in line to play Tennessee, the likely second pick behind Kentucky in the SEC East, in one semifinal. Purdue, a top-10 team and a possible Big Ten title contender with Michigan State, would face Boston College, a projected top-four ACC team, in the other.
The Paradise Jam has long tried to find its niche within the crowded Thanksgiving tournament schedule and thought it had a blockbuster potential foursome last season with Connecticut, Miami, Wisconsin and San Diego. But only two of the four reached the NCAA tournament. UConn was a top seed and a Final Four team, but Wisconsin barely made the tournament. Miami flamed out late and San Diego's injuries pushed the Toreros out of postseason play.
Some events have yet to be finalized, but for a working list of the early season tournament fields for the 2009-10 season, check here.