Next Cats: Calipari taking look at a fellow 'Pittsburgh guy'

broberts@herald-leader.comFebruary 15, 2013 

It was supposed to be a pleasure trip for John Calipari.

Two days before last year's regular-season finale and still a month away from winning his first national championship, the Kentucky coach set off for his old stomping ground of Pittsburgh.

He was there to see a high school basketball game, but he wasn't there to recruit.

The point of the visit was to cheer on his old high school coach, Bill Sacco, who had a team in the Western Pennsylvania finals for the first time in his 40-year career.

Of course, Calipari ended up recruiting.

Sacco's team lost that game to a Lincoln Park Charter squad that included a lanky sophomore named Ryan Skovranko.

The 6-foot-7 guard wasn't nationally ranked, and he didn't have an eye-popping stat line. But he made an impression on the UK coach.

So much so that Calipari contacted Lincoln Park Coach Mike Bariski this week to say he was interested in making the trip to Midland, Pa., to see Skovranko play again.

That visit was set for Wednesday and later postponed in the wake of Nerlens Noel's season-ending injury.

But Calipari told Bariski he'd find time to see Skovranko sometime soon.

"He's very intrigued by his length and athleticism," Bariski told the Herald-Leader. "He's 6-7. He runs very well. He jumps absolutely out of the gym. He has, to them, the athleticism and length that they like. He's a big guard."

Skovranko sounds like the prototypical Calipari guard, but he's not the typical Calipari recruit.

He doesn't have four or five stars next to his name. and ESPN don't even have a profile page set up for him.

His college offers consist of mostly smaller schools like Duquesne, Elon and Robert Morris — though Virginia Tech recently extended an offer.

Other bigger programs are starting to converge on Lincoln Park.

Bariski said Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Iowa, West Virginia and DePaul have all shown interest.

And now Calipari has come a-calling.

"Did we ever think that a school like Kentucky would look at (him)? You hope that happens, but you have to be realistic," Bariski said. "Ryan can play at a high level, but he's not a kid that's going to be a McDonald's All-American and come in and start for you right away at that level."

Bariski said Skovranko is suited to play the two-guard position in college. He's a solid three-point shooter, and he can drive to the basket.

Lincoln Park uses back screens to get Skovranko easy alley-oop opportunities two or three times a game.

"He is just an absolute riser," Bariski said. "He is so far above the rim. But you have to play with aggression and heart. Because when you're going to play at that level, you've gotta be a man."

Aside from his slight frame, giving total effort is the area where Bariski says Skovranko is lacking at this stage in his young career. He plays hard about 80 percent of the time, "but every high school kid is like that," the coach said.

Getting Skovranko to play hard 100 percent of the time is the goal.

Lincoln Park competes in the lowest classification of Western Pennsylvania hoops, so Skovranko isn't often challenged during the high school season. He finds better competition on the AAU circuit, and his effort matches his opponent.

"But you have to play hard on every single play," Bariski said. "Cal comes up here and all the other coaches come up — they all know he can play. They want to see if he plays hard."

Calipari was known as a hard worker during his high school career in Moon, Pa., just 20 miles down the road from Lincoln Charter.

Bariski recalled playing against the UK coach in college, when the former was at Slippery Rock and the latter was at Clarion State.

In the 30 years since, Calipari has transformed into one of the most polarizing figures in college basketball, but he's held his Western Pennsylvania roots, and his star status in that area of the country has never waned.

"He's a local hero," Bariski said. "Everybody has always liked Cal here. There's a lot of places that don't like Cal. But here, when they start talking about John Calipari, they all go, 'That's our man.' Pittsburgh likes its own guys."

So will Calipari give Skovranko — a fellow "Pittsburgh guy" — a chance to make it on the big stage?

Time will tell.

"Every once in a while, Cal will take a shot at a kid that's a one- or two-year project, by Kentucky standards," Bariski said. "If he went to any mid-level school, he'd play right away. If he goes to a high-level D-I he's going to play, but it might take a year. And I think that's what Cal's looking at.

"If he puts 25 or 30 pounds of muscle on him, the kid will be an absolute terror."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216 Twitter: @NextCats Blog:

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