LOUISVILLE — Though once committed to and then rejected by Kentucky, Western Kentucky freshman Vinny Zollo played down the possibility that he'll use a NCAA Tournament game Thursday to prove he can play on UK's level.
"If I was a high school guy or hadn't been seasoned, that'd probably come out," he said Wednesday. "But I know what got us here: team play."
Zollo's commitment as a high school sophomore famously made then UK Coach Billy Gillispie weep. After John Calipari replaced Gillispie as coach in 2009, UK's indifference let Zollo know he needed to find a new college home.
"It shows this is a business," Zollo said. "You have to do what's best for you."
Zollo noted how he benefited from the motivation of having to find another college program.
"I grew as much in that three-month span as I had at any other time as a player," he said.
Looking noticeably older and mature since he finished his high school career at George Rogers Clark, Zollo rejected the notion that he'd have extra incentive against UK.
"If you can't find motivation in a NCAA (tournament) game, you might as well go home," he said. "I'm here for my team. There's no added incentive. I can't say I'll go out and play any harder."
No doubt, Western Coach Ray Harper approved of Zollo's selfless approach to the game.
"He's a smart kid," the WKU coach said. "He knows this is not about Vinny Zollo. It's about Kentucky-Western Kentucky."
Cal to NBA
Calipari wasted little time sending a tweet disavowing any interest in the New York Knicks' coaching job, which suddenly became available with the resignation of Mike D'Antoni.
"As I've said before, I have the greatest job in basketball at any level," Calipari tweeted. "Why would I be interested in another job?"
During his formal NCAA Tournament news conference, Calipari echoed the sentiment.
"Every job that's open, including high school jobs and AAU jobs, my name is mentioned," he said in explaining the tweet. "So, no. But I just wanted to say, I have a great job, the best in this profession."
Later, a reporter asked UConn Coach Jim Calhoun if he could imagine Calipari as a NBA coach.
Calling Calipari a future Hall of Fame coach, Calhoun said, "Can I imagine John going to the NBA or anywhere else? Yes. John always marches — and always has — to his own drummer."
Calhoun scoffed at the notion that Calipari merely collects talent. "He does a lot with that very good talent," he said.
In its First Four victory over Mississippi Valley State, Western Kentucky showed again that it will not be deterred by any deficit. The Hilltoppers rallied from 16 down in the final five minutes to win.
"That's what makes them dangerous," Calipari said.
Zollo enchoed the thought raised by Harper after WKU's First Four victory. It will be dangerous for the Hilltoppers to fall behind Kentucky.
"It's kind of like a horse race against a very good horse," Zollo said. "You don't want to fall behind by too much because the race is only so long."
Zollo noted the "two contrasting attitudes" in the UK and WKU locker rooms.
"For them, they're expected to win," he said. "Most people would say they're the best team in the country.
"We're so thankful to be here."
At 16-18, Western is only the 21st team with a losing record to play in the NCAA Tournament, and the first since Coppin State in 2008.
Zollo likened Western to the George Mason team that advanced to the 2006 Final Four.
Back to normal?
The First Four atmosphere, which included President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, threw off WKU.
"I've never seen us like that," Harper said of the 28-turnover showing. "We played one on one all night long.
"Whatever happens (against Kentucky), that can't happen. That will not happen."
When asked how he could be so sure the Hilltoppers won't abandon team play again, Harper said, "I think that message has been sent."
Terrence Jones needs five points to reach 1,000 in his career. ... Vern Lundquist, Bill Raftery and sideline reporter Leslie Visser will call the game on TBS.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com