William Wesley, a behind-the-scenes figure in University of Memphis basketball recruiting, should not be cause for concern among Kentucky fans, John Calipari said Wednesday.
“William Wesley knows what he’s allowed to do and what he’s not allowed to do,” said Calipari, who left Memphis to become UK coach. “He will never represent the University of Kentucky or me in any kind of recruiting.”
Wesley, also known as “Worldwide Wes”, regularly sat near the Memphis bench at home games. He’s the godfather of Dajuan Wagner, the first high-profile recruit signed by Calipari for Memphis. Wesley has been linked to several other Memphis recruits.
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said the school asked the NCAA about Wesley as part of the vetting process. The NCAA did not raise any red flags, he said.
“Basketball players all over the country have relationships like that,” Barnhart said before adding, “The college basketball world is a very confusing world.”
Calipari said he first met Wesley during an effort to recruit Kevin Walls, a player from Camden, N.J., who signed with the University of Louisville and played on the Cardinals’ 1986 national championship team.
Martin Newton, who works for Nike and is the son of former UK athletics director C.M. Newton, brought Wesley to Calipari’s attention again when the coach first went to Memphis.
“Martin Newton reconnected us when I was going to Memphis because Dajuan Wagner was thinking of coming (to Kentucky),” Calipari said. “Then Martin said, ‘Hey, Cal’s getting back in the business (of college coaching).’ ”
Reshaping the roster
The next few weeks will be all about evaluations for Calipari.
During his introductory news conference, the new Kentucky coach talked about evaluating current players and recruits and seeing whether or not they fit into his system.
“We’ll have to have individual meetings, figure out where everybody stands, how they feel about things,” he said.
If no current player or incoming freshman decides to depart, Calipari inherits a roster that already is two players over the scholarship limit of 13 players.
Like any changing of the guard, Calipari didn’t rule out that players would opt to leave the program.
“If there are any players here who don’t want to be here, I’m fine,” he said. “If there are any players here who came here because of Billy (Gillispie), well then they should be able to be released. … We should release anybody who does not want to be here because of the coaching change.”
The former Memphis coach admitted that he knows little about the team he is walking into, but he did specifically mention being excited to work with players such as Patrick Patterson, Jodie Meeks and Darius Miller.
The entire team met Calipari for breakfast at Wildcat Lodge early Wednesday.
“It was really nice, especially talking to a coach of his prestige,” Miller said. “I’ve never talked to him before so it was a good chance to meet him. He seemed like a real cool, down-to-earth guy. He seems like he’ll be a nice fit for us here.”
Former coach Gillispie left the new coaching staff with five commitments through the 2012 season.
Calipari made no promises when it came to honoring those commitments, stressing that he would start the evaluation process soon.
The players who have committed but have not signed with UK yet include juniors Dakotah Euton of Scott County, Dominique Ferguson of Indianapolis and K.C. Ross-Miller from Texas as well as sophomore Vinny Zollo of Clark County and California freshman Michael Avery.
“I’ll watch every player, and I’ll be honest with them,” Calipari said. “If they’re good enough to play here and help us win national titles, I want (them) here. If they’re not, I’m going to tell them.”
One player did not wait for Calipari’s assessment. The coaching change caused Konner Tucker, the last prospect to commit to UK during the Gillispie era, to begin looking for a new school. The junior college transfer said he’s heard from California, Marquette, Cincinnati, Santa Clara, Oklahoma State and Wichita State.
Having not heard from UK, Tucker said, “I’m not going to be going to Kentucky. I have no desire to play there or for Coach Calipari.” The coach was asked specifically about incoming freshmen G.J. Vilarino, Jon Hood and Daniel Orton, all of whom have signed.
He had this to say about Vilarino: “I did (look at him early on). We’ll have to talk to him to see if this is the right place.” Calipari called Orton a “terrific player.
“He’s a really, really good player,” Calipari said. “I’ll meet with him and his family.”
The new coach also seemed pleased with Hood being named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball at a ceremony in Madisonville Wednesday.
“I hear he’s a wonderful young man, and I really look forward to meeting him, and I hear he’s a terrific player,” Calipari said. “I’m excited.”
The players left behind
While at Memphis, Calipari signed what is considered the top recruiting class in the nation, according to Rivals.com. He gave no indication that any of them would be following him to UK.
“What I would hope is all the players that signed at Memphis will go to Memphis,” he said. “That’s my hope.
“At this point now, I cannot call any players — nor will I — that have signed with the University of Memphis. I’m not allowed to. It’s against the NCAA rules. The minute we signed yesterday, I could not call any of those kids.”
The Tigers signees include junior college forwards Will Coleman and Darnell Dodson as well as 6-foot-6 shooting guard Xavier Henry, a McDonald’s All-American, and Nolan Dennis, a shooting guard from Texas.
DeMarcus Cousins, a 6-foot-9 power forward and McDonald’s All-American, gave an oral commitment to Memphis in early March but has not signed. John Wall, the top-rated point guard in the nation, had the Tigers high on his list along with Duke, but he has not made a commitment.
Filling out the staff
Calipari was asked about his future coaching staff and seemed prepared to answer but was cautioned by a nearby UK administrator to wait. Kentucky is required to post the positions and do background checks on staff before any hire.
But Calipari did say this: “We will have the best assistants there are in the country because they want to become head coaches. Some of it is, they want to learn the system of play. So we will have the best.”
The coach didn’t name names of any future assistants but did talk about his former staff at Memphis. They probably are on his short list. The coach discussed coaches Orlando Antigua, Josh Pastner and John Robic as well as director of basketball operations Rod Strickland.
Calipari vs. Pitino
There have long been rumors and innuendo about a less than comfortable relationship between Louisville Coach Rick Pitino and Calipari, but the new UK coach tried to downplay it.
“This thing about we hate each other, it is so crazy,” Calipari said. “We’re competitive. You know what I said to him? ‘We’re not even in the same league now. Why should we bother with each other? We’ve got to play a game, let’s just play it.’”
Cal joins establishment?
Earlier in his coaching career, Calipari put second-tier programs at Massachusetts and Memphis onto the national basketball map. When asked about joining the bluest of the blue blood programs, Calipari cut off the question.
“No, no, don’t say that yet,” he said. “We have a program that has a storied history. But we have struggled here in the last (few years). You know what I mean? We’re not where we want to be. We have to build. You build through players.”
Later during the news conference, Calipari offered three keys to winning titles.
“The first thing is have really good players,” he said. “The second thing is have really good players. And I hate to tell you, that’s the third thing. … “This is going to take more than one or two years to get where we’re trying to get.”