UK Men's Basketball

So what's Calipari's secret?

As John Calipari reloads the top shelf of Kentucky's basketball cupboard, there should be little doubt that he sets the pace for recruiters. So how does he do it?

Here's a sampling of some answers to that question:

■ Cal connects with high school players.

"He has the same attitudes we have," UK recruit Brandon Knight said. "He's always looking at the positive, always putting positive things in your ear."

Steve Smith, the Kentucky native who coaches the high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, noted the same quality.

"He says the right things," Smith said. "The players relate to him."

Kentucky Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice ultimately chose to stick with his commitment to Louisville, so there's a limit to how persuasive Calipari can be. But he is persuasive.

"He was just telling me how he expects to have a lot of guys leaving and it's going to open up a lot of scholarships," Justice said. "He watched a lot of game film. I was what he was looking for."

■ Cal does not seem to be an autocrat.

"They feel he's a player's coach," Smith said of prospects. "He comes across that way."

That translates into the perception that players are not restricted by a system.

"The day of the dictator is over," Smith said. "Guys don't like that anymore. Not to say they don't need a stern kick every once in a while. But players want to feel they have some freedom."

■ Players are well aware of the success of Cal's teams and Cal's players.

"He knows what to do with guards," prospect Doron Lamb said. "He's a good coach."

Added Knight: "You want to go somewhere you feel you're going to get better. The proof is in the pudding. All those (former) players, they've gotten better. And they've won a lot of games. People want to go to programs they feel they're going to win, and they feel they will win every year. Coach Cal gives players that mindset we're going to be a good team no matter who we have or what we do."

■ Cal maximizes the potential of the so-called one-and-done rule, especially for point guards.

In other words, he makes the one-and-done player a key component, then sells the next prospect on getting on the fast track to the NBA.

"He gets them in the league fast," Lamb said. "So players want to go there."

Prospect Josh Selby noted how Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and, it seems, John Wall played only one season for Calipari in the last three successive years and then turned pro.

"Three straight point guards," Selby said. "That's the thing."

Added Knight: "Coach Cal has that title of one-and-done."

■ As a byproduct of the one-and-done player, the departure creates openings on the roster (i.e. available playing time that next season).

"He has opportunities for guys to play," said Brick Oettinger, an analyst for the Prep Stars recruiting service. "Cal is as good a recruiter as anybody in the country, period."

■ Cal works at it.

Prospect C.J. Leslie noted that Calipari was the only coach to make a visit since the dead period ended April 8.

"That definitely means a lot," Leslie said. "That means he's going after me pretty hard. . . . It's going to play a part in my decision."

Justice, basketball style

Let's see if we've got this straight:

■ Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury correctly points out that the referees made a mistake with a critical non-call at the end of his team's SEC Tournament game against Kentucky. The league announces last week that it has fined him $30,000 for publicly criticizing referees.

■ The referees who made the mistake, Ted Valentine and Tom Eades, work the national championship game between Duke and Butler.

Huh?

Officially, the SEC fined Stansbury for violating SEC Bylaw 10.5.4, which was strengthened in October to include fines and suspensions. Bylaw 10.5.4 prohibits public criticism of referees.

Stansbury became the second coach fined by the SEC since Bylaw 10.5.4 was strengthened. The league fined Florida football coach Urban Meyer $30,000 in October because he publicly criticized officials.

"The league's athletics directors and presidents and chancellors have made it clear that negative public comments on officiating are not acceptable," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement last week.

"It's obvious I've said enough already," Stansbury said in a statement when the league announced the fine. "So, it is what it is."

The play involved was the free throw UK's Eric Bledsoe intentionally missed at the end of regulation. Valentine and Eades did not call UK's John Wall, who stood outside the top of the key, for improperly entering the lane before the ball hit the rim. That would have given State possession. Instead, the final-second scramble ended with a DeMarcus Cousins putback sending the game into overtime.

It was not a judgment call like charge/block or goal- tending. The referees simply did not enforce the rule that requires players standing off the foul line on a free throw to stay outside the lane until the ball hits the rim.

Adding injury to that insult, the overtime loss cost Mississippi State an NCAA Tournament bid.

In his post-game comments, Stansbury did not criticize Valentine and Eades by name. But he did suggest there was a double-standard.

"I've been at this a long time, and one thing I've learned, at Mississippi State you're supposed to take it and be quiet," Stansbury said after the game. "I had a hard time swallowing this pill because so much was at stake and players were affected. When does the truth matter?"

There has been no word if Valentine and Eades were punished or reprimanded in any way. Gerald Boudreaux, the SEC's supervisor of officials, said the league prefers its discipline of referees remain private.

But the high-profile assignments at the Final Four suggested no significant punishment for Valentine and Eades. For working the NCAA Tournament championship game, Valentine and Eades were paid $2,000, plus expenses.

As an aside, the contentious regular-season game between Kentucky and Mississippi State had a similar footnote. In that game, State held a seven-point lead with three minutes left. In the final three minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime, 10 fouls were called against State and none against UK. Plus, Wall might have gotten away with a goal-tend.

Mike Stuart, the lead official that night, subsequently picked up $2,000, plus expenses, for working the Butler-Michigan State game in the Final Four.

Cousins leftovers

Herald-Leader sportswriter Jennifer Smith covered last week's news conference in which DeMarcus Cousins talked about entering this year's NBA Draft and hiring an agent.

Here are a few leftovers she forwarded to the UK notebook:

■ Cousins still looked the part of student, not the future professional athlete. He arrived at his news conference in a plain, gray T-shirt, saying later that he had just recently rolled out of bed.

■ His agent, John Greig, attended the news conference. He sat alone to Cousins' right. He didn't say anything during or after the 15-minute session.

Cousins said finding an agent was not difficult.

"My mom ended up finding him," Cousins said. "Agents do what they do. They find you. It wasn't a hard process, I just went with my Mom."

■ Reporters asked how UK Coach John Calipari prepares players for the NBA.

"Coach Cal starts out and he just teaches fast," Cousins said. "If you don't learn fast, you're going to be around (UK) for a while. That's how it is in the NBA, too. They teach fast and if you don't learn fast, you're going to be left behind and be out of the league."

■ Cousins endorsed Kentucky as a program for basketball prospects.

"You come to Kentucky, you're going to love it," he said. "It's an easy transition. Here I was just accepted. It was easy."

■ Cousins downplayed any suggestion that his courtside exchanges with Calipari reflected a contentious player-coach relationship.

His relationship with Calipari has "never been up and down," he said. "I appreciate everything he's done for me. He's helped me tremendously. I probably couldn't have made it this far without him."

■ Cousins explained what ultimately convinced him it was time to go.

"It was the risk of getting hurt and possibly ending my career," he said. "All of that. Stocks can drop, and mine's at a high now.

"It was not an easy decision at all, but me and my family and my coaches felt like it was the best decision for me."

Alternative view

When UK raised, er, adjusted ticket prices in football last week, school officials noted ever-increasing costs. Those officials also noted the relative bargain the ticket prices are compared to other SEC football programs.

Reader Ed Radjunas wrote in with an alternative view.

"Being a season ticket holder for 15 years, I have watched mediocre/poor quality of football, but I still continue my trek to Lexington each weekend," he wrote. "It seems that the A.D. has worked tirelessly to achieve a yearly schedule that can assure us three wins, hopefully beat UL and two SEC opponents to reach that magical number of six victories and a berth in one of the 35 bowls played post season!!

"My point is do we need to continue increasing the prices/K-Fund and more than likely the parking fee and force us to watch Western Kentucky, Akron and 'mighty' Charleston Southern?? What happened to Indiana, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Rutgers, North Carolina, Clemson, Kansas State and even Penn State??????????"

Radjunas, 65 and a UK season-ticket holder, grew up in Ashland. He played baseball at Marshall, graduating in 1968. He then taught and/or coached at Ironton, Ohio, Prestonsburg and Ashland Community College. He recalled attending his first UK football game with his father at Stoll Field in 1954.

Polson update

Jarrod Polson, who led West Jessamine High to this year's Sweet 16, remains hopeful that he'll receive an invitation to be a walk-on with the UK team next season, his father said.

George Polson said his son has done well in pickup games with UK players. But UK Coach John Calipari, who has been busy on the recruiting trail, has not yet made a decision on whether to invite Polson to join the team.

"He definitely wants to go there," the elder Polson said. "All they have to do is ask."

Jarrod would be happy to accept being a walk-on or scholarship player, his father said. Other schools have suggested the walk-on route. But Jarrod would want a scholarship anywhere else, his father said.

Meanwhile, coaches from Liberty came this weekend to recruit Polson.

One and not done?

Tom Konchalski, a longtime analyst of high school basketball players, recoiled when asked if Brandon Knight should be considered a one-and-done player.

"I hope not," Konchalski said. "He's a 4.0 student (actually 4.3). I would hope he'd inch closer to a degree.

"When you leave after one year, you have three years left. You're making a lot of money. You don't have the incentive (to return to school and get a degree)."

Making a statement

When UK got commitments from arguably the best high school senior (Brandon Knight) and junior (Michael Gilchrist) on Wednesday, it reminded Tom Konchalski of a recruiting statement from the mid-1970s. UCLA announced the commitments from three star recruits, David Greenwood, Roy Hamilton and Brad Holland.

"Just for the dramatic effect," Konchalski said.

UCLA could more easily line up such a statement in the days before recruiting websites and which-hat-will-he-wear news conferences to announce college choices.

"Back then, when you were working on a cure for cancer and things like that, you had press conferences," Konchalski said. "Now people hold press conferences to announce they're going to Division II schools."

Happy birthday

To former UK player and assistant coach Dwane Casey. He turned 53 on Saturday.

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