By JIM LITKE, AP Sports Writer
Welcome back to BracketRacket, the one-stop shopping place for all your offbeat NCAA tournament needs. In today’s edition, coach Cal keeps going back to the future, Florida beats Dayton (again!) in some kind of parallel universe, UConn wins but loses face, and tourists enjoy a rare moment of consensus in New York. Without further ado:
WE DON’T REBUILD AT KENTUCKY, WE ... ACTUALLY, WE DO REBUILD. EVERY YEAR.
If “The John Calipari Finishing School for NBA Prospects — Sponsored by the University of Kentucky(TM)” sent out a newsletter to high-school recruits, the latest might read something like this.
“This year’s class is having a slam-bang time at the NCAA tournament. We’re going to the Final Four — again! — and preparations are already underway for a reunion at this summer’s NBA draft. But enough about this year’s team, since many of them won’t be around by the time you arrive in the fall. Can’t wait to see you in Lexington!”
Say what you want about coach Cal, but the man has nerves of steel. Around this time last year, the Wildcats’ season ended with a loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT and worse, the cupboard was practically bare. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky’s best player went down during the season with a devastating knee injury, and was already rehabbing to go pro.
So Calipari simply did what he’s always done: start over.
He recruited circles around every other coach in the game, bringing in six McDonald’s All-Americans and trying to coach ‘em up fast enough to deliver a happy meal by tournament time. There were chills and spills along the way, but after Kentucky held on to beat Michigan in the Midwest regional final Sunday, Calipari took a brief, but well-deserved bow.
“The whole thing about building a team, especially young guys, is it’s a process and you cannot skip steps. You want to skip steps,” he said emphatically, “but you can’t.”
You can building a program, though.
Take nothing away from Calipari’s in-season work, but it pales in comparison to his abilities as a talent scout. In his four previous seasons at Kentucky, he’s already put 17 players in the NBA, with another handful set to join them this June. He’s the only coach to send three No. 1 overall picks to the pros, the only coach to have five players taken in the first round in the same year (2010), and the only one to squeeze six in since the league cut the draft to two rounds.
And he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Plenty of Kentucky fans took a break Saturday between the Wildcats’ wins in the tournament to take in the Indiana High School Class 4A boys basketball state championship game. The kid to watch turned out to be Indianapolis Arsenal Tech’s 6-foot-10 Trey Lyles, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds to lock up a state title.
Lyles is already committed to Kentucky, which if nothing else means coach Cal saved himself some postage.
ART IMITATING LIFE, OR MAYBE JUST THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
It’s a miracle no one thought of it before.
OK, you probably did. More than once, too. Maybe you and a few pals even went down to the basement, found a Nerf ball and taped a mini-backboard to the wall. Maybe you even filmed it.
But get it on air?
These guys did: (via YouTube.com): http://bit.ly/1ogFgmn .
They’re part of the WCJB-TV crew at an ABC affiliate in Gainesville, Florida. Barred from showing highlights of Florida’s win over Dayton — non-CBS stations can’t until the day after the game — anchor Zach Aldridge, meteorologist Mike Gismondi and two other guys from the station re-enacted the Gators’ triumph, from the pre-game locker room huddle to the postgame celebration.
“I can’t air any of it without breaking the law and every other rule and regulation known to TV,” Aldridge says in the run-up to the clip. “But I want to show you the next-best thing.”
You might be selling yourself short, Zach. It was actually more entertaining than the real thing.
THANKS, I NEEDED THAT
In what’s threatening to become a postgame tradition, UConn’s coach and players have begun exchanging celebratory slaps. Not the usual high- or low-five variety, but slaps upside the head.
Coach Kevin Ollie started it after UConn’s upset win over Iowa State, finishing up an interview on the court and then, as he walked by Terrence Samuel, delivering the chuck here (via YouTube.com): http://bit.ly/1dIQrzp . It was — pardon the expression — a hit with the team.
Deciding one good turn deserved another, Ollie gathered his Huskies around him for the postgame interview after upsetting Michigan State on Sunday and wanted confirmation he wasn’t dreaming. Naturally, the task fell to Samuel, who delivered here (via The Big Lead): http://bit.ly/1dIS9kk
BracketRacket just made UConn its pick to win it all.
Not because the Huskies are the best team still standing, but because we’d like to see how many of them would still be standing by the end.
CELEBRITY ALUMS OF THE DAY
Instead of going mano-a-mano, our next two combatants traded blows via the video board at Madison Square Garden.
During a second-half timeout in that same UConn-Michigan State game, former Spartan and 2000 national champion Mateen Cleaves turned up on the screen and got a rousing cheer from the green-and-white-clad fans in the crowd of 19,499. A few seconds later, the camera found former Husky and 1999 national champion Richard Hamilton.
With much more of the crowd in his corner, Hamilton escalated the battle by raising his arms and imploring the UConn fans to cheer even louder. Then back to Cleaves, who recovered nicely by matching the arm-raising gesture and for good measure, started “popping” the Michigan State shirt he was wearing. Back came Hamilton, popping his shirt and the place went up for grabs.
Mindful that the timeout was coming to an end, the board operator finally went to a split screen showing both Cleaves and Hamilton. Judging by the ovation, we’re scoring it a draw.
STAT OF THE DAY
STATS notes that if three of the Final Four teams wind up blanketed by confetti a week from Monday, they won’t need a refresher course to act like they’ve been there before. In fact, five of the past 10 national championships have been won by either Connecticut (2004, 2011), Florida (2006, 2007) or Kentucky (2012). The exception is Wisconsin. The Badgers’ last — and only — title dates back to 1941.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We got 16 of the most out-of-body turnovers known to mankind, to be honest.” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo explaining the Spartans’ self-inflicted wounds against UConn.
Kentucky 75, Michigan 72
At New York City
UConn 60, Michigan State 54
Saturday, April 5
At Arlington, Texas
UConn (30-8) vs. Florida (36-2), 6:09 p.m. EDT
Kentucky (28-10) vs. Wisconsin (30-7), 8:49 p.m.
Monday, April 7
Semifinal winners, 9:10 p.m.