UK Men's Basketball

Big Blue Bahamas: Antigua lauds Calipari's ability to manage talent, depth

NASSAU, Bahamas — A question about how Kentucky Coach John Calipari can find playing time for so many players this coming season produced an immediate and broad smile. Then Orlando Antigua busted out laughing.

"That's a good problem for a coach to have," he said before pausing to finish laughing. "And Cal is the best at figuring that out. He'll do a phenomenal job at that."

[Related story: Playing time squabbles, media scrutiny can derail impressive season, Bilas says]

Antigua, who coaches the Dominican Republic National Team against Kentucky here Friday, knows Calipari the coach. As a UK assistant the last five seasons, he watched Calipari quickly turn seemingly disparate groups of players into functioning units. As for a player fretting about how playing time might affect his NBA Draft stock, Calipari could always cite the example of Daniel Orton, a 2010 first-round pick despite playing sparingly in his one UK season.

"I think there's some validity to that," Antigua said of the Orton example. "I think that's important because guys (in the past) have had success.

"When you have a wealth of depth and talent, I don't think there's anybody better suited in the country that can handle and manage that" than Calipari.

Antigua expects Kentucky to unleash the depth and talent on his Dominican Republic National Team here Friday.

"Cal and his staff, they know how to use talent and they know how to use depth," he said. "I would assume they're going to try to exploit those strengths."

Kentucky's depth and talent overwhelmed the first three exhibition opponents here.

Coming to the Bahamas, the general feeling among fans was that the Dominican Republic National Team would be the best of UK's three opponents here.

"Supposedly," Antigua corrected. "I don't know about that. ... I don't know if that is accurate."

It didn't look accurate on Wednesday, when the professional team from France, Champagne Chalons-Reims, beat the Dominicans 67-62. UK had beaten the pro team from France by 23 points on Monday.

Antigua suggested that the Dominicans have handicaps to overcome. The players had not practiced as a group before Saturday. Prior to that, some players were participating in a FIBA event in Mexico, while others were working with Antigua in Tampa, where he will be South Florida's head coach next season.

The Dominicans had not been on the site for the exhibitions, the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium, until a shootaround Wednesday morning.

"Not making any excuses, but it takes a little bit of time to get your legs," Antigua said.

Antigua's team bounced back Thursday and defeated the Puerto Rico reserve squad.

Familiar faces dot the Dominican roster. Former UK big man Eloy Vargas started at center against the pro team from France. He scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds in 15 minutes.

Vargas looked forward to facing Kentucky, in part because there will be a group of perhaps 750 UK fans in attendance. At the start of the game against the pro team from France, there were only 15 people sitting in the bleachers.

"A lot of fans are going to be watching us and supporting us," said Vargas, who dismissed Wednesday's loss as a mere warm-up. "It's going to be a great game."

Two former Louisville standouts, Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa, also play for the Dominicans.

"I see them having huge roles," Antigua said of Vargas, Garcia and Sosa. "... Eloy in the past couple years has really come on and ... had an incredible tournament down in Mexico. So we're hoping he continues that same trend and continues to get better in showing what he's capable of."

For what it's worth, neither Vargas, Garcia nor Sosa was on the floor as the Dominicans rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final seven minutes against the pros from France. The Dominicans got within three before falling short.

While the Dominicans try to mesh their talents here in preparation for the World Cup in Spain (Aug. 30-Sept. 14), Kentucky's unity of purpose caught Antigua's eye.

"I'm real excited about how quickly they've jelled already ... ," he said. "Holy moly, to be this good that early right now, that's great."

Antigua cited veteran players as a reason for Kentucky coming together so quickly. "Guys who understand the expectations and understand the work level (required)," he said. "... It's going to be exciting watching them play."

Judging by games here last Sunday through Tuesday, it might be more humbling than exciting for Antigua on Friday and in the rematch on Sunday.

Antigua predicted that he'll be a dispassionate professional coaching his Dominican teams in the upcoming games.

"Prior to (the games) and after," he added, "I'll be part of the BBN as well."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader