John Clay: Connecting the dots between college game, NBA Finals

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 4, 2013 

Bobcats Camp Basketball

Then-Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown, left, talked with Kentucky Coach John Calipari during a Bobcats training camp practice in 2009. Brown has been in Lexington this week.

CHUCK BURTON — ASSOCIATED PRESS

One is the nomad.

The other is the triumvirate.

No two entities have had more to do with the two most important hoops happenings in recent weeks.

The nomad is Larry Brown, 72-year-old head coach at basketball outlier SMU. The triumvirate is the three schools with the most wins in college basketball history — Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina.

Let's begin with Brown, the only coach to win NCAA and NBA titles, now in his 14th head coaching job, but who made his collegiate mark during five years at Kansas which included his 1988 team upsetting Oklahoma for the national title.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari was on those first two Kansas staffs and has been close to Brown since. When fired by the NBA's New Jersey Nets in 1999, Calipari joined Brown as an assistant coach for a season with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Since, Calipari coached Memphis to the 2008 title game (where it lost to Bill Self and Kansas) before leaving for Kentucky, where he won the 2012 title (over Bill Self and Kansas) and has just signed his fifth consecutive No. 1-rated recruiting class.

Calipari did not get the nation's No. 1 recruit, however, losing Andrew Wiggins to Kansas and Self, who first came to Lawrence as an assistant on Brown's staff the year after Calipari returned to his hometown to be an assistant at Pittsburgh.

Wiggins' second choice was Florida State, coached by ex-UK assistant Leonard Hamilton, who after being hired as head coach by Oklahoma State in 1986, promptly hired Self away from Kansas.

(Side note: After Hamilton left for Miami in 1990, Oklahoma State hired former UK head coach Eddie Sutton, who smartly kept Self on staff.)

The year after Self left Lawrence, Brown allowed the head coach of Division III Pomona-Pitzer College to spend a season observing practices and meetings.

That was Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, who open Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at Miami.

In fact, Brown left Kansas in 1988 to become head coach of the Spurs, and (a) hired Popovich as an assistant and (b) brought from Kansas assistant R.C. Buford, who since 2002 has been San Antonio's general manager.

(Side note: Buford's son, Chase, was on the 2007-08 Kansas team that beat John Calipari and Memphis in the NCAA finals.)

Not to worry, the Heat also has ties to the triumvirate. Head Coach Erik Spolestra was a Miami assistant from 1997-2003 and then again from 2005-08 under Pat Riley, before Riley left coaching to concentrate on his duties as Miami's team president.

It was in that capacity that Riley signed a couple of free agents named Chris Bosh and LeBron James to go with Heat star Dwyane Wade.

As we all know, Riley played his college basketball under Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, which also happens to be the same school from which Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel graduated after serving as a basketball manager for head coach Rick Pitino.

Vogel's boss with the NBA Eastern Conference runner-up is general manager Kevin Pritchard, a Bloomington, Ind., native who was the starting point guard on — you guessed it — that 1987-88 Kansas title team coached by Brown.

John Robic, UK's top assistant, was also on that Kansas title staff, but when longtime North Carolina assistant Roy Williams succeeded Brown, Robic joined up with Calipari at first UMass and then Memphis before continuing to Lexington.

Self replaced Williams, who left the Jayhawks to return to his alma mater, where he had been a trusted aide to Dean Smith.

To return to its earliest roots, Smith played his college basketball at Kansas under Phog Allen 30 years after Rupp did the same.

And who played the final two years of his college basketball career at North Carolina under Dean Smith?

Larry Brown.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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