Coach Cals collide in Final Four

RYAN WOLSTAT, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:21 PM ET

A day later, this Final Four field doesn’t make any more sense.

Play-in No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth? Butler minus Gordon Hayward? Those consistently underachieving Kentucky Wildcats? And wasn’t everybody certain Kemba Walker and the Connecticut Huskies used up all of their magic in the Big East tournament earlier this month?

Improbable beyond belief, all of this is, but what it also is, is a reality.

One of these teams is going to win. We’ll leave the breakdown of who it will be for later in the week and focus on some interesting storylines, particularly the Jim Calhoun vs. John Calipari dynamic.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

Did you know UConn almost landed star Kentucky freshmen Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb?

Both visited campus in Connecticut and thought long and hard about joining the Huskies before eventually deciding the would be better served going forward by learning from Calipari.

OLD RIVALS

Calipari and Calhoun have a long history. Both share immense respect for each other.

The younger Calipari is very respectful of one of the NCAA’s coaching legends.

“I think he’s a battler and I think he holds the bar high and doesn’t accept anything except their best,” said Calipari in a conference call on Monday.

“He gets them to a point where they look at it and say: ‘Hey, we can do this.’ He’s got talented players to buy in and has done a great job throughout his whole career.”

Calhoun feels similarly, though he was a little more mischievous in his praise, calling Calipari his “problem child.”

“John Calipari, who always has been an aggressive, incredible personality has developed into a terrific basketball coach,” Calhoun said.

ADVICE FROM THE OLD PRO

Calhoun said the absence this year of a true standout team opened up the field and added that college basketball is better for it.

“As we started to have kids leave earlier and earlier, I think what it’s done, without noticing this much, this year we noticed, there’s been less and less power teams,” Calhoun said.

“I said all year there’s some terrific basketball teams, Pitt, Ohio State, Kansas, etc.”

“But they may not be a great team. If it’s not a great team, it opens up the field for everybody else. Thus, that’s what happened.”

Calhoun also offered advice to the other coaches.

“They should be congratulated, thoroughly enjoy it. There’s no guarantees you’re going to get back,” the 68-year-old said.

“I don’t care who you’re coaching, it’s tough to get there.”

He also said now is not the time to change what has been working to this point.

“I think the biggest thing is keep being yourself. I don’t think there’s any change in playing in the Final Four or playing in an exhibition game as the season starts. There’s a lot more responsibility, different type of things. But the best thing to do is be who you are as a coach and understand what got you there.”

MORE PRAISE

VCU head coach Shaka Smart wasn’t about to take shots at his coaching opponent, Butler’s Brad Stevens, either.

“Well, he’s had a whole lot more success than I have, first of all, to take Butler to back‑to‑back Final Fours and the national championship game last year, what an unbelievable feat,” Smart said.

“I think what we have in common is certainly humble beginnings, work ethic, and an understanding, particularly at our young age, there’s a whole lot left to learn.”


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