Cal's pal Rohrssen gets Big Blue welcome

jtipton@herald-leader.comMay 13, 2014 

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New UK assistant coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen put his self-deprecating humor on display Tuesday. "I used to have a forehead," he said of his balding head. "Now, I have a five-head."

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Moments after a mirthful introductory news conference Tuesday, new Kentucky assistant coach Barry Rohrssen had a question for media types who hung around to chat in a less formal setting. Actually, it was a straight line: What's the difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer?

"A good lawyer knows the law," he said. "A great lawyer knows the judge."

All laughed, including Rohrssen.

Rohrssen, who replaces Orlando Antigua on UK Coach John Calipari's staff, was quick to make a light-hearted quip. More than once, he used his George Costanza-esque balding head as a prop. "I used to have a forehead," he said in what sounded like a well-rehearsed line. "Now, I have a five-head."

A longtime friend of Calipari's (the two met as roommates at the famous 5-Star Camp in the Pittsburgh area), Rohrssen seemed to get choked up as he spoke of growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and eventually aspiring to be a coach.

"My background is from a single-parent home," he said. "My mom — God bless her — struggled. Worked and sacrificed her whole life. And I saw the impact it had on me and said that if I was able to help other young people achieve their dream and do that, that's what I wanted to do."

Of course, doing that at Kentucky can be different from doing it elsewhere. For instance, new assistant coaches seldom need to field questions from reporters at a news conference.

"One of things that you hear about from the outside and you certainly learn when you get into this town and on this campus is that in the Big Blue Nation, they do things big," he said.

Rohrssen, who turns 54 on June 6, noted the fan interest-bordering-on-obsession with UK basketball.

"Really appreciate how consumed this town and this state is, and how supportive they are and their love of basketball," he said. "It's something that struck me a long time ago when I actually had a lot more hair and a lot less weight."

As an aspiring coach, Rohrssen worked former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall's camps. "It made an indelible impression on me," he said.

Rohrssen comes to Kentucky with the reputation for being an astute and effective recruiter, especially in the talent-rich New York metropolitan area. When someone mentioned this, he said, "Very kind of you to say."

This led to the inevitable questions about reloading a UK roster that will have nine McDonald's All-Americans, plus Willie Cauley-Stein, next season.

Might prospects he recruited as a Pittsburgh assistant now consider Kentucky?

"You know what, we'll see how that unfolds," he said.

Then someone asked about any possible transfers to Kentucky, a reference to Eron Harris, who has said he will transfer from West Virginia. Harris, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 17.2 points and made 42.2 percent of his three-point shots this past season.

"You're the recruiting guy here, eh?" Rohrssen playfully said. "... You probably want to have your own session after everybody else leaves."

The reporter said he was agreeable to such an arrangement.

"You know what," Rohrssen said, "I'm still trying to get my feet on the ground. You know, I'm trying to find the place that has Hot Browns with Parmesan cheese."

Rohrssen (pronounced Roar-sin) said Howard Garfinkel, the director of the 5-Star Camp, gave him the nickname "Slice" because he was not a good shooter.

"So the only way to try to stay on the court and win the game was to basically navigate your way to the basket," he said.

To set an informal, friendly tone, the new assistant was introduced as "Slice Rohrssen."

Rohrssen worked as an assistant at Pittsburgh before and after a five-year stint as head coach at Manhattan. His 58-95 record included a farewell 6-25 season in 2010-11.

Rohrssen acknowledged being approached by Calipari with job offers in the past.

"He's been very kind," he said of the UK coach. "I better take it this time. There may be a time he doesn't ask anymore."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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