Mark Story: Freshmen stars come through for Coach Cal — Calhoun, that is

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 8, 2011 

Fast-break points from the final note of One Shining Moment:

21. John Calipari. Has consistently maintained that it is possible to win the NCAA Tournament with a team built around freshmen.

20. One-and-done skeptics. Many college basketball observers — myself included — doubted that fielding a team heavily dependent on first-year players was the most likely way to cut down the nets.

19. Connecticut gives Cal's argument ammo. The UConn squad that snipped the nets Monday night in Houston started three freshmen (Tyler Olander, Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb) and had two other freshmen (Shabazz Napier, Niles Giffey) make significant contributions.

18. Still need veterans. Of course, UConn would not have been anywhere near the national championship without junior star Kemba Walker.

17. Still need veterans II. As important as freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were to Kentucky's 2011 Final Four run, the Cats didn't really take off as a team until senior Josh Harrellson, and juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins elevated their games down the stretch.

16. Freshman starters in 2011 Final Four. Six (add VCU center D.J. Haley to the three from UConn and UK's Jones and Knight) out of 20 slots.

15. Freshman starters in 2010 Final Four. One (Michigan State's Derrick Nix) out of 20 slots.

14. Freshmen starters in 2009 Final Four. One (Michigan State's Delvon Roe) out of 20 slots.

13. Miller two wins from Kentucky history. If UK had won the 2011 national title, it would have made Darius Miller the first player in our state's history to 1.) play on a Kentucky boys' high school state champ (Mason County 2008); 2. win Kentucky's Mr. Basketball award (2008); 3. play on a national championship team for UK.

12. Darrell Griffith. The only men's player ever to complete what we might call the Triple Crown of Kentucky hoops is Griffith, who led Male High School to the 1975 state title, won Mr. Basketball in 1976 and played on Louisville's 1980 NCAA champs.

11. Shelvin Mack in the Final Four. In two appearances in the national semifinals, the former Bryan Station star is a combined 13-for-20 in field-goal shooting and 7-for-10 from three-point range in two Butler victories.

10. Shelvin Mack in the national championship game. In two appearances in the NCAA finals, Mack is a combined 9-for-29 in field-goal shooting and 6-for-15 from three-point range in two Butler defeats.

9. Darius Miller on whether he is surprised that Shelvin Mack blew up into a college star. "Not really. In high school, we played them. He had like 30 (actually 29) on us. I always knew he was talented. I never really underestimated him. I think a lot of other people did."

8. Shelvin Mack reviews the movie Hoosiers. "I fall asleep every time I try to watch it. A lot of people in Indiana don't like me for that."

7. Another Kentuckian to Butler. Eastern High School's Kameron Woods, a 6-foot-8, 190-pound forward with perimeter skills, will follow the path from the commonwealth to Indianapolis to play college hoops.

6. Brad Stevens. At this moment, the boy-wonder Butler coach is in the position to get any college head coaching job that opens if he wants it. My guess is Stevens will stay put until the Indiana University job opens. I think that is the opportunity to which the Zionsville, Ind., product could not say no (and if Tom Crean doesn't get something going, IU may open soon).

5. Anthony Grant. Other than Stevens, the most impressive up-and-coming coach in the country in my book is Grant, who recruited the (main) players that took VCU to the Final Four and seems to be building something strong at Alabama.

4. Josh Harrellson. The UK big man and former baseball pitcher gives his estimated radar-gun reading in miles per hour on the ball he bounced off the chest of Ohio State center Jared Sullinger in the round of 16. "Mid-80s," Harrellson said with a grin.

3. Bad free-throw shooting. In Kentucky's 1997 NCAA championsip loss to Arizona in overtime, the Cats were 9-for-17 from the line.

2. Even more bad foul shooting. In UK's 2011 one-point defeat to Connecticut in the Final Four, the Cats were 4-for-12 on free throws.

1. Two national titles lost at the line? If you accept that the UConn-UK matchup turned out to be this season's de facto national championship game, Kentucky would have nine NCAA titles now if it had hit free throws in 1997 and 2011.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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