Dif­fer­ent paths for Cali­pari and Pitino

One reloads; the other makes do

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY EDDIE PELLS

Lurk­ing in vir­tu­ally ev­ery corner of the Su­per­dome this week­end will be lot­tery picks, some other NBA first rounders and as­sorted AP All-amer­i­cans.

Ev­ery­where, that is, ex­cept the Louisville locker room.

This year’s Final Four fea­tures three teams — Ken­tucky, Kansas and Ohio State — with their fair share of the most gifted play­ers in the coun­try, and a fourth with a coach who has squeezed the most out of the next tier of tal­ent.

Does that make Louisville’s Rick Pitino the best coach, or say some­thing about John Cali­pari, Bill Self and Thad Matta? Well, those three might tell you some­thing about how tough it is deal­ing with a bench full of stars.

“A lot of coaches would agree that, at times, coach­ing teams with a ton of tal­ent is prob­a­bly more dif­fi­cult be­cause you’re con­stantly try­ing to get the max­i­mum out of them,” said Matta, who has a star in AP All-amer­ica first-teamer Jared Sullinger, widely viewed as a top-15 NBA draft pick. “It’s so much eas­ier to get to the top than stay at the top. A lot of times when you have a team that’s loaded, you fight a lot more ad­ver­sity on the out­side than when you’re scrap­ing to get to the top.”

Which brings us to the Ken­tucky Wild­cats, who play Louisville on Satur­day in the first semi­fi­nal.

By choice, Cali­pari has de­vel­oped a pro­gram so over­flow­ing with top-level tal­ent that he’s spend­ing more time look­ing to re­place play­ers af­ter a sea­son or two than de­vel­op­ing them over four.

Fresh­man An­thony Davis, an­other AP All-amer­i­can, likely will be the top player in the draft should he leave af­ter this sea­son. Class­mate Michael Kid­dGilchrist won’t be far be­hind. Fresh­man Mar­quis Teague and sopho­mores Ter­rence Jones and Doron Lamb also will have a chance at the first round if they leave.

So, Cali­pari must be the most per­sua­sive (some might have an­other ad­jec­tive to de­scribe this af­ter those run-ins with the NCAA) re­cruiter in his­tory, right?

“We don’t do any­thing out­landish,” he said. “We’re not promis­ing min­utes or shots. They’ve just re­ally got to trust that you have their best in­ter­est at heart. It’s a play­ers-first pro­gram, and they learn that, as you sac­ri­fice, we all gain, as in­di­vid­u­als and as a team.”

Get­ting his play­ers to buy into that, and to come to a team where they aren’t guar­an­teed to be the only star, might be Cali­pari’s big­gest ac­com­plish­ment as a coach. But once they get there, he in­sists he’s do­ing more than sim­ply rolling the ball out on the floor.

Ken­tucky leads the na­tion in field goal de­fense and blocked shots and has a nearly 6-5 as­sistto-turnover ra­tio. Stoked by this com­bi­na­tion of less-glam­orous num­bers, Cali­pari claims he has the most ef­fi­cient team in the coun­try.

“What I’m go­ing to try to do is get guys to play as well as they can play,” he said. “Let’s go out and play great. If it’s not good enough, let’s make sure we have more fun than any­one else, and we’ll take the re­sults from there.”

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