No coaching caution for John Calipari when he envisions the Kentucky team for 2011-12.
"We're going to have a good team," he said in speaking to reporters before the Dick Vitale Gala on Friday night. "Usually, I don't say that, but put that down. We're going to have a really good team."
A third straight No. 1 recruiting class comes to UK this coming season. Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague — all rated among the top 10 prospects in the high school class of 2011 — join holdover veterans Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones.
The Web site Bodog.com made North Carolina and Kentucky the top two choices to win the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Bodog.com set the odds on a UNC national championship at 3-1, and UK was the second choice at 13-2. Other favorites were Duke at 8-1, Louisville and Ohio State at 17-2 and Syracuse at 12-1.
"I hope we're 'One' and they're two at the end of the year," Calipari said.
Then speaking of UNC Coach Roy Williams, Calipari added, "If he wants to be 'One' now, I'm good with that. ... No, seriously, he's been a good friend."
Calipari and Williams joined tennis impresario Nick Bollettieri as honorees at the Vitale gala, which serves as a fund-raiser for the Jimmy V Foundation.
Calipari said his budding friendship with Williams dates to the UK-UNC game of 2009.
"The game ends, we win in Lexington. We had to win that game. My first year, and we weren't playing particularly well," Calipari said. "He came up and said, 'You are exactly the guy who should be coaching at Kentucky. You can deal with this stuff.'
"Well, I'm not sure I can. But when he beat us last year — which was a big game that they needed to win; there was a lot going on there — I told him, 'I'm happy for you.' Not that I want to lose a game, but I was happy for him."
For returning veterans Miller, Lamb and Jones, Calipari noted the importance of the off-season.
"All three have things they have to do to help to get themselves to the next level," he said. "Two should be lottery picks, and the other should be a first-round draft pick. ...
"They have to lead. Terrence has to get in the best shape of his life. I told him, this summer is where you worry about the lottery. This summer, 'cause when we start playing basketball, I'm not worried about draft picks. I'm worried about us being a good team."
In projecting the NBA Draft, John Calipari told sportswriter Chris Harry that Brandon Knight will be among the top five picks.
Calipari lauded would-be UK player Enes Kanter as worthy of the overall No. 1 pick.
"Yeah, he is," the UK coach said. "And, I'm telling you, people are looking at him right now and saying, 'Oh my gosh! How can I pass on this?' He's a beast. He's skill and all of 6-11. And I'm not talking about an undersized 6-7. You're talking about real size. They'll see athleticism they haven't seen.
"If you're asking me and I'm picking at 1, I'm taking Enes Kanter. That's no disrespect to Kyrie (Irving) or any of those other players. They're all worthy of that, too. That's just me, personally. Then again, I'm probably biased."
Calipari likened Kanter to "a Karl Malone-ish kind of guy."
Lockout no problem
UK Coach John Calipari dismissed the notion that a lockout could hurt Brandon Knight.
"I told Brandon when I knew he was 3 through 8, 'I love coaching you, I want to keep coaching you, but you have to do this,' " Calipari said. "... The reason he'll be OK (is), he can train himself. I've never seen somebody like him. It will not affect him. Second, he'll get a line of credit, so there will be no money issues. He can come back to school, do what he wants academically and train. And whenever they start playing — which they will; it will not be a whole-year thing — he'll be fine."
Here are leftovers from Friday's Dick Vitale Gala, a fund-raiser for the Jimmy V Foundation:
■ The sit-down reception began at 7 p.m. John Calipari, one of three honorees, wasn't introduced until 11:26 p.m.
Calipari's wife, Ellen, did not attend. She was at their son Bradley's AAU basketball tournament.
"She said, 'I can watch him play, or you talk about yourself,' " Calipari told the crowd. "'What do you think I'm going to do?' "
■ The three honorees — Calipari, UNC Coach Roy Williams and tennis instructor Nick Bollettieri — mentioned how the event wasn't to "honor" them as much as to pay tribute to the nation's 12 million cancer survivors and the people who fight the disease.
Calipari closed by saying, "It's the people we touch through basketball and the people we've touched tonight that will feel moved to do something to fight this dreaded disease. ... Mom, I love you."
Cancer claimed the coach's mother, Donna Mae Calipari, last November at age 74.
■ Among the people in attendance were Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan, Christian Laettner, Jim Calhoun (who introduced Williams), Larry Brown (who introduced Calipari), Bob Huggins, Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Jay Wright, Gary Williams, Ben Howland, Jamie Dixon, Dave Cowens, Eric Montross, Jim Jackson, Tino Martinez, Vinny Testaverde, Jon Gruden, Desmond Howard, Erin Andrews and Leslie Visser.
It's no coincidence that college basketball will tip off next season with a game on Nov. 11. That's 11-11-11. Or Veterans' Day in triplicate.
Hence, Michigan State and North Carolina will play on an aircraft carrier in San Diego.
The inaugural Carrier Classic will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2. Besides the spectacle of two high-profile programs playing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, the game is designed to raise awareness and funds for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, a non-profit charity that helps members of the Navy, eligible family members and survivors.
Michael Whalen, director of the Morale Entertainment Foundation (which helped set up the game), linked the Carrier Classic to Veterans' Day. "We want to take Veterans' Day from an orphan holiday and make it a celebration," he said.
The Carrier Classic is an extension of an effort by Whalen's organization to entertain military personnel stationed around the world. In that effort, the Morale Entertainment Foundation has sponsored visits by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan, race car drivers Mario Andretti and Al Unser and such college football coaches as Jim Tressel, Ron Zook, Chip Kelly, Mac Brown and Tommy Tuberville.
The Michigan State-North Carolina game is the first of a three-year contract for the Carrier Classic. Because Tom Izzo gets credit for the idea, Michigan State will play in the event twice.
Whalen envisions a doubleheader in 2012 with a women's game between Ohio State and Notre Dame preceding a men's game.
Other men's programs that have expressed interest in participating are Texas, Connecticut, Florida and Arizona.
"We've heard interest from 10 to 12 teams," said Whalen, who added that Kentucky had not expressed interest.
Organizers expect a seating capacity of about 7,000. Some sort of vinyl "wall" will be erected to minimize wind coming off the ocean. Each participating school receives an allotment of 750 tickets.
Schools must sacrifice to participate. The Carrier Classic does not have "exempt" status, meaning it counts against the NCAA limit of games in a season. Participating teams give up a potential home game, which in North Carolina's case means sacrificing about $1 million in revenue, Whalen said.
Teams in the Carrier Classic get only expenses paid.
"There are some people, from time to time, who do things for the right reason," Whalen said.
Anyone wanting to donate to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society can send checks made out to NMCRS to Retired Navy Commander John W. Alexander, 875 North Randolph Street, Suite 225, Arlington VA 22203-1977. Alexander asked that such checks have 2011 Carrier Classic written on the memo line.
Donations can also be made through the Web site www.nmcrs.org. Follow the prompts "Make a gift" and "in memory/in honor."
UK as Combine
Given John Calipari's annual recruiting haul of top-level prospects, UK products at the NBA Combine were asked whether being a Wildcat approximated a pro camp.
"I think there's a lot of value," Brandon Knight said of playing with other standouts at UK. "Because those guys push you to be better, pushing you to give your best effort. It can really help you mature."
Enes Kanter echoed the sentiment.
"I played with really good players," he said of regularly practicing with the Cats this past season. "When I play with these guys, it makes me, like, ready for the next level."
When asked whether playing with other standouts played a part in his decision to sign with UK, Knight said, "Oh, big time. I wanted to make sure I played with a lot of other great players."
DeAndre Liggins noted how playing with great players at UK served as useful experience and preparation for competing against other NBA prospects in Chicago.
"I played with the best in college at Kentucky," he said. "John (Wall), Eric (Bledsoe), DeMarcus (Cousins). Going against those guys in college helped me."
Of course, UK held its own combine, inviting NBA representatives to watch UK draft prospects work out the first week of May.
"Nice little set-up Coach Cal did," Liggins said, "and I appreciate it."
The pain of the loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament lingers for Ohio State players.
"Oh my gosh, it still eats at me," guard Jon Diebler said at the combine. "It's something I feel like will always be in the back of my mind. No knock on Kentucky. They played the way they had to play to beat us. They were better than us that night."
Former Ohio State teammate David Lighty also participated in the combine. He said he went to the Final Four and watched with envy as Kentucky faced Connecticut in the national semifinals.
"I'm kind of over it," Lighty said. "But I'm not over it."
Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president for player development, advised participants to consider the combine a job interview. Make an effort to impress.
Yet Morehead State's Kenneth Faried's dreadlocks dangled over his shoulders.
"I had no thought of cutting my hair," he said with a smile. "That's pretty much my trademark."
Faried has worn dreadlocks since high school,
"I don't know why, but people are more intimidated (by the dreadlocks)," he said of the basketball edge his hairstyle provides.
Not that Faried made no effort to impress. He said he wore a tie, slacks and a "nice buttoned-down shirt" for interviews with NBA teams.
Although he played only one college season, former Duke guard Kyrie Irving intends to earn a degree within five years. That's the promise he made to his father, Drederick, upon entering this year's NBA Draft.
"I made a pact with my father," he said. "I have to get my degree in five years. My father wasn't going to let me drop out. I didn't want to be considered a dropout."
To former UK center Jamaal Magloire. He turned 33 on Saturday.
Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at email@example.com.