As diplomats like to say, it appeared that Kentucky Coach John Calipari and freshman Hamidou Diallo had a frank exchange of views at the bench during a recent game.
On Friday each tried to explain the conversation.
“I wouldn’t say me and Cal ever went back and forth . . . ,” Diallo said. “I’m trying to be a player and a leader. I feel like me and Coach have to be on the same page. And we have to be able to talk to each other. We have to learn what’s going on in the game.”
Diallo and Calipari certainly talked to each other at South Carolina on Jan. 16. As Calipari told it, he and Diallo saw an intentional foul on the UK player differently. Diallo denied grabbing the jersey of a South Carolina player, Calipari said. The coach believed he did.
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“This is all new for all of them,” Calipari said. “And it’s hard to accept responsibility. To say, ‘You know what, I did it and I was wrong and I’m changing.’”
Diallo appeared to come close to saying just that Friday when asked about grabbing the South Carolina player.
“Bad play on my end,” he said. “That’s something I’ve got to get better at.”
Diallo also suggested that players on the court can sometimes see plays and sense opportunities better than a coach on the sideline.
“A lot of things happen on the court,” he said. “Players can see that. A coach might not be able to see.”
“It wasn’t his fault, that’s what he saw,” the UK coach said. “‘Not my fault. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He did see it differently. Film saw it my way. But he saw it differently.”
Diallo suggested he and Calipari had resolved the issue.
“We’re just trying to be able to speak to him,” he said. ‘And we addressed the rules on the bench. And it’s been great ever since.”
Meanwhile, Calipari recoiled from the suggestion that he had rules governing bench behavior.
“The only rules I know we have is be where we’re supposed to be on time,” he said. “And try to get there early. . . . The more rules you have, the more you have to enforce and the more you have to respond.”
WVU’s Super Bowl?
Playing Kentucky is supposed to be every opponent’s Super Bowl. But that’s not how WVU Coach Bob Huggins sounded when asked what beating UK would mean for the Mountaineers.
“It’s not like we haven’t won before,” he said Thursday. “It’s not going to be ground-breaking, for sure. You’ve got two good teams playing. . . . I would hope we’re well past the point we’re in awe of somebody.”
Huggins acknowledged that beating UK, which has a No. 17 RPI, could help West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament résumé. WVU has an RPI of No. 22.
While the game is a sellout, so were West Virginia’s other home games against Big 12 opponents.
With ESPN’s “College GameDay” originating from Morgantown, the WVU players “understand there is a buzz,” said Huggins, who added there was a buzz for home games against Virginia and Kansas. And for Oklahoma, a “huge buzz,” he said.
When asked about the challenge this Kentucky team presents, Huggins said, “I’m amazed Cal can take guys and get them to play together the way they do and have them organized the way they’re organized. I’ve got three-year guys who still don’t know what they’re doing. That’s what jumps out at me.”
UK fans ‘nuts’
Huggins used one of his former players at Cincinnati in suggesting UK fans are crazy.
“I’ll tell you how nuts their fans are,” he said. “They used to call in talk shows and argue Travis Ford was better than Nick Van Exel. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. Travis would even admit that’s crazy.”
▪ Coaches may prefer the Big 12/SEC Challenge not come in the middle of conference play. But there’s a higher authority. “We did it for TV,” Huggins said. “TV was convinced the viewership would be way better here (after bowl games).”
▪ Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and sideline reporter Maria Taylor will call the game for ESPN.