Ken­tucky, UNC meet in a clash of styles — and ros­ter-build­ing.

De­spite their con­trasts, the Elite Eight op­po­nents share one thing: Suc­cess

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY ADAM KILGORE adam.kilgore@wash­post.com

mem­phis — John Cali­pari sat be­hind a dais Satur­day af­ter­noon and out­lined the un­der­ly­ing foun­da­tion of the Ken­tucky bas­ket­ball fac­tory. He peren­ni­ally re­cruits and of­ten lands the na­tion’s best high school play­ers, leads them on a deep NCAA tour­na­ment run, waves good­bye as they flee for the NBA and then starts the process again. It works, he said, be­cause the de­sires of play­ers comes first.

“If not, they’re not trust­ing you,” Cali­pari said. “They’re go­ing to look at you and say, ‘This guy is about the pro­gram, the pro­gram. Look at the ban­ners. This is the pro­gram.’ The kids say, ‘Yeah, how about me and my fam­ily?’ With us, we talk about fam­ily.”

In the locker room of North Carolina, the Wild­cats’ op­po­nent in Sun­day’s South Re­gion fi­nal, se­nior Nate Britt ex­plained the bedrock rea­son play­ers choose to play at Carolina, and it hap­pened to di­a­met­ri­cally op­pose the ethos Cali­pari es­poused.

“If you make a de­ci­sion to come here, you de­cide to be a part of some­thing that’s big­ger than you,” said Britt, a D.C. na­tive who starred at Gonzaga High. “You know that your role, your po­si­tion in this pro­gram won’t just be about you. You won’t be the cen­ter.”

Cali­pari proudly places in­di­vid­u­als above the Ken­tucky name. UNC Coach Roy Wil­liams, just as proudly, re­gards the North Carolina ban­ner above all. The coach’s at­ti­tudes re­flect the com­plex­ion of two pow­er­house ros­ters, con­structed in wholly dif­fer­ent man­ners, with dif­fer­ent but not nec­es­sar­ily un­equal value sys­tems.

The Tar Heels have not had a one-and-done player since Bran­dan Wright in 2007, the first year the NBA banned high school­ers from en­ter­ing the draft. Ken­tucky, of course, runs an assem­bly line for pro­fes­sional prospects. Cur­rent stars De’Aaron Fox, Ma­lik Monk and Bam Ade­bayo likely will join the 18 — 18! — play­ers Cali­pari has ush­ered into the NBA after one sea­son at Ken­tucky since he ar­rived in Lex­ing­ton in 2009.

The con­trast will cre­ate a gulf in ex­pe­ri­ence in Sun­day’s South Re­gion fi­nal. Top-seeded North Carolina (30-7) is the rare col­lege bas­ket­ball pow­er­house built on up­per­class­men. It starts two se­niors and three ju­niors. Six Tar Heels ap­peared in last sea­son’s na­tional ti­tle game, in­clud­ing all five starters. No. 2 seed Ken­tucky (32-5) starts three fresh­men and a sopho­more, plus se­nior Derek Wil­lis.

It means the Heels pos­sess more ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­tra phys­i­cal ma­tu­rity, with an av­er­age age of 20.8 years old com­pared with Ken­tucky’s 19.7, the youngest this sea­son among Power Five schools. The Wild­cats pack more raw fire­power. Monk and Fox both might be top-five NBA draft picks. UNC’s Justin Jack­son, widely viewed as the best col­lege prospect not in the fresh­man class, is pro­jected as an early-teens lot­tery pick.

“We go in to re­cruit who­ever we need to re­cruit,” UNC as­sis­tant C.B. McGrath said. “If the sit­u­a­tion doesn’t work out for us, it doesn’t work out for us. If we go in their house and they say they want to be one-and-done, they don’t care about school, we usu­ally go else­where. We want our kids to go to class. We want them to be in­vested in the pro­gram. Coach runs a bas­ket­ball pro­gram. He al­ways has. If you’re some­place for six to eight months, it’s harder to be in­vested in that pro­gram.

“We don’t go in say­ing we’re not go­ing to re­cruit cer­tain kids be­cause they’re one-and-dones. We might go in and say we’re not go­ing to re­cruit a kid be­cause he doesn’t fit our style, he’s not the type of per­son we want in our pro­gram. We don’t base it on if we think they’re go­ing to be one­and-done.”

Carolina, then, is an ac­ci­den­tal anachro­nism. Wil­liams does not tar­get ex­clu­sively play­ers pro­jected to stick around cam­pus. In fact, he would like more one-and-done play­ers. He came hard after Ade­bayo, who hails from Wash­ing­ton, N.C. Wil­liams wanted Jayson Ta­tum, who landed at loathed Duke. Over the years, the Tar Heels missed out on Andrew Wig­gins and, painfully, Bran­don In­gram, who was men­tored by Carolina all­timer Jerry Stack­house. At present, they are woo­ing Kevin Knox, a 6-foot-8 for­ward from Florida re­garded as a top-10 re­cruit.

“Yeah, there’s a dif­fer­ence,” Wil­liams said. “He got them, and I didn’t. I re­cruit the same guys. We’ve got to try to fig­ure out a way to com­pete with them and go from there.”

The way Ken­tucky and Carolina po­si­tion them­selves lends to their ros­ter com­plex­ions. Cali­pari has sold him­self as the coach best equipped to turn high school se­niors into NBA draftees. An­nu­ally, Cali­pari uses his tour­na­ment news con­fer­ences to tout the suc­cess of his play­ers, never fail­ing, un­prompted, to de­fend his pres­ence in the NBA draft’s green room with Ken­tucky play­ers. On Fri­day, he told the story — also un­prompted — of Devin Booker tex­ting him after scor­ing 70 points for the Phoenix Suns.

“‘Oh, he doesn’t care about win­ning. He only cares about get­ting guys to the NBA,’ ” Cali­pari said Fri­day, mim­ick­ing his crit­ics. “Re­ally? If you pin that on me, I’ll prob­a­bly say, fine, you can say that. Say that a lot.”

Carolina, con­versely, may at­tract a player for whom the NBA is not a press­ing pri­or­ity. Jack­son made the McDon­ald’s all-Amer­i­can team and could have gone most any­where he de­sired. He chose Carolina pri­mar­ily be­cause it felt like home, a place to es­tab­lish roots.

“I wasn’t look­ing for a place that, ‘Okay, they can get me to the league the fastest,’ ” Jack­son said.

In re­cent years, Ed Davis, Har­ri­son Barnes and James Michael McA­doo all faced a de­ci­sion after their fresh­man sea­sons, and all de­cided to re­turn. Jack­son, sim­i­larly, could have left after his sopho­more sea­son, and in­stead he is a ju­nior try­ing to reach his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Fi­nal Four. In a re­mark­able out­lier, given col­lege bas­ket­ball’s cli­mate, no Tar Heel has trans­ferred since 2011.

“I feel like peo­ple just fall in love with Carolina,” Jack­son said. “There’s things you could pos­si­bly say. For me, com­ing in as a highly ranked high school player, I never had my mind set on go­ing one-and-done. There’s a lot of play­ers that might do that, and most of them go a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion [than Carolina] just be­cause of that 10 years of not hav­ing a one-and-done.”

Barnes, the sev­enth se­lec­tion in the 2012 draft, is the only Tar Heel since Wright to be cho­sen in the top 10. NBA teams have plucked at least one Ken­tucky prod­uct in the top eight picks ev­ery sea­son Cali­pari has spent in Lex­ing­ton. And still, Cali­pari has man­aged to reload ev­ery sum­mer.

“What John does is just phe­nom­e­nal to me,” Wil­liams said. “To have to change four, five, six, seven guys ev­ery year is just phe­nom­e­nal. What he does is re­ally spe­cial there, and I’m not try­ing to suck up or any­thing. I re­ally be­lieve that. For me that would be harder be­cause I like that re­la­tion­ship and watch­ing guys grow and do some of those things, but I’d like to have a mix of them.”

For now, Wil­liams has merely a griz­zled bunch, mo­ti­vated to re­turn to the na­tional ti­tle game. Those play­ers talk about fam­ily, too. “Once you’re part of the fam­ily,” Britt said, “you re­al­ize this could be the best four years of your life.”

Or if a player be­comes part of the Ken­tucky fam­ily, he might re­al­ize it could be the best one year of his life. And that’s okay, too.

KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES

De’Aaron Fox is likely an­other one-and-done star for Ken­tucky, while ju­nior Justin Jack­son leads an ex­pe­ri­enced North Carolina team.

JEFF ROBER­SON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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