UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Cats' Calipari, Gators' Donovan fit perfectly, analyst says

Kentucky Coach John Calipari, left, and Florida Coach Billy Donovan
Kentucky Coach John Calipari, left, and Florida Coach Billy Donovan

John Calipari and Billy Donovan could switch jobs and each be big winners. But they seem well suited for the jobs they have: Calipari as coach/promoter/marketeer of Kentucky basketball's two-ring circus, Donovan as quietly successful coach for a forever-in-the-football-shadow program at Florida.

ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg sees cosmic correctness in this alignment of coaches and programs.

"John is the perfect coach for Kentucky," Greenberg said at the recent Southeastern Conference Media Days. "It's a drug for him, the Big Blue Nation. And they're his fix."

Besides being spectacularly successful in recruiting talent and returning Kentucky to preeminence, Calipari has expanded UK basketball to social media. He's jumped in front of every parade, practically invented a methodology reliant on one-and-done players, made librarians weep at the thought of another book and found time to pitch frozen yogurt.

Amid much less commotion, Donovan has transformed Florida from, at best, an afterthought to national prominence. Yet he seems content with football being the prettiest belle at Florida's ball. This was never more obvious than when Kentucky's job came open in 2007 and 2009. UK fans assumed Donovan craved Big Blue adulation. He did not.

"The magic of Billy Donovan is he can play a game in November with 5,000 people in the O-Dome," Greenberg said in reference to Florida's O'Connell Center. "It doesn't bother him. He's coaching his team. It's the only thing he's concerned with: coaching his team."

Former Vanderbilt and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, who now consults with schools to find the right "fit" for a coaching job, agreed with Greenberg. Calipari would win at Florida and Donovan could win at Kentucky. But both are best suited where they are.

"There are very few people — very few coaches — who could handle the Kentucky job," Fogler said. "Very few. And John, obviously, can handle it, and handle it extremely well."

Donovan, in his own way, has been a transformational figure in showing the SEC that other programs besides Kentucky can achieve at the highest level.

"He's not into the kind of showman part of it, maybe as much as John," Fogler said.

Of course, each has been remarkably successful.

No surprise, that Calipari and Donovan (or, if you prefer, Donovan and Calipari) are the winningest SEC coaches in the last five seasons. In that time, Kentucky and Florida have identical 64-20 records in SEC play. Tennessee is a distant third at 51-33.


It's a busy 48 hours for Pikeville. After playing Kentucky on Sunday night, the Bears play an exhibition game at Tennessee on Monday night.

Pikeville's experience caught Tennessee Coach Donnie Tyndall's eye. "They have more Division I experience than probably we do," he said last week.

That might be an exaggeration. But the Bears' Kenny Manigault once played for Wichita State, K.K. Simmons played for UNC Wilmington and then Kent State, James Still for Eastern Michigan and Bruce Haynes for USC Upstate. Macari Brooks originally signed with Marquette.

Pikeville beat Grace Bible 100-63 Monday. The Bears posted a 31-3 record last season. But Coach Kelly Wells cautioned against drawing any conclusions.

"We had that discussion with them (Thursday)," he said. "That they've proved nothing and earned nothing. That the accolades we're receiving are all based on what we did last year."

Noting his team's nine newcomers, he said, "We're riding on training wheels. Everything is brand new to them."

To make up for a lack of size, the Bears hope to play faster. But Wells suggested there's not a simple antidote when playing Kentucky.

"They're unbelievably talented," he said of the Cats. "That might be the major understatement of the day. They've got 11 NBA players. I don't know how you replicate that."

To work around the Garth Brooks concerts at Rupp Arena, Pikeville planned to practice at UK's Joe Craft Center on Saturday.

Wells also gave an encouraging update on his health. He said he's making daily progress after undergoing a second kidney transplant this past summer. The last test showed no sign of his body rejecting the new kidney, he said.

Proceed with caution

After the Blue-White Game, Karl-Anthony Towns offered a safe-driving tip for Kentucky opponents this season: Don't do it.

"You got three 7-footers," he said of UK's tall timber. "You got Marcus Lee. You got everybody around the rim. You got to really challenge yourself to even have the courage to go inside against all of us. We make that a focal point — us as big men — that we protect the rim at all costs. And we make sure that the guards know that we have their back."

Initial impression

As a high school prospect, he was known as Karl Towns. As a Kentucky freshman, he's Karl-Anthony Towns with the initials K-A-T. Coincidence?

"A lot of people always called me by my father's name," he said. His father is also named Karl Towns.

"I just wanted to be known as Karl-Anthony Towns." he said before adding with a smile, "It didn't hurt that it goes with Wildcat. If you have a name like that, you might as well utilize it."

'Kind of weird'

As sportswriter Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette noted, Michael Qualls did it again last week.

Qualls, whose put-back dunk in the final second beat Kentucky in Fayetteville last season, played hero in Arkansas' Red-White Game on Wednesday night. He dunked Ky Madden's missed shot with 0.5 seconds left to give the Red a 99-98 victory over the White team.

The Qualls dunk that beat Kentucky came with 0.2 seconds left in overtime — again set up by a Madden miss — and gave Arkansas an 87-85 victory.

The similarity didn't end there.

After Qualls' winning dunk last week, Alandise Harris' inbound pass hit the scoreboard hanging over midcourt and bounced away. Last season, Aaron Harrison's inbound pass after Qualls' winning dunk lodged in the scoreboard — where it remains.

"A lot of flashbacks," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said after the Red-White Game. "The difference was the ball didn't get stuck up in the scoreboard, it just hit the scoreboard.

"It was kind of weird."


To review, ESPN's ongoing love affair with Kentucky basketball includes televising the six exhibition games in the Bahamas (SEC Network), the NBA Combine (ESPNU), the Blue-White Game (SEC Network), exhibition games against Pikeville and Georgetown (SEC Network) and nine of the first 10 regular-season games (four on the SEC Network, two on ESPN, two on ESPN2 and one on ESPNU).

The ESPNs will not televise any other SEC team's scrimmage or exhibition game. To raise the question of fairness is to invite derision.

An exception is Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy. When asked about ESPNU's two-hour rave-on coverage of Kentucky's NBA Combine, he said, "It's not fair. But we all have kind of surrendered."

Rather than fight, Kennedy said that other SEC programs want to join Kentucky.

When asked about the Combine, he said, "We've talked about doing it as a league."

Cal and Rick

While in Kentucky last week, Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS interviewed Kentucky Coach John Calipari and Louisville Coach Rick Pitino.

Davis noted how the interviews touched on headline-grabbing moments in each coach's career.

"They went great ... ," Davis said of the interviews. "I talked to Cal about the vacated Final Fours, and I talked to Pitino about his extortion trial. Riveting stuff."

The interviews will air next Thursday on and Davis' Twitter feed.

Pitino power

In saluting Billy Donovan, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl lauded Donovan's college coach, Rick Pitino.

"Coach Pitino was the toughest I ever went up against," Pearl said at SEC Media Days. "He was in my huddle. He was in my head. He was a great, great coach."

When asked to explain how another coach would get in his head, Pearl noted the power of Pitino's preparation.

"He knew what we were going to do, why we were going to do it and how exactly to stop it," Pearl said.

Tired of being admired?

Reflecting on Big Blue Madness, UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell seemed relieved to have made it through another performance. Or maybe he feigned relief for the amusement of reporters.

"I'm done for another, I don't know, 362 days, maybe," he said at SEC Media Days.

Mitchell impersonated Bruno Mars at this year's Madness. In the past, he's "covered" such artists as Michael Jackson, M.C. Hammer and James Brown.

When asked who he might channel next year, Mitchell said, "I don't know. It's a hard decision to make. Maybe I need to have an injury next year."

Maybe Mitchell could be Drake? Or 50 Cent? Or Aloe Blacc? Or, as part of a salute to Motown, David Ruffin or Smokey Robinson (ask your grandparents, kids)? UK players Bria Goss and Jennifer O'Neill suggested Elvis.

"We'll figure it out somehow, some way," Mitchell said before adding, "I'm glad it's over."

When asked if he felt pressure to live up to past Madness performances, Mitchell said, "Oh gosh, a little."

A moment later, he added, "It's all about having fun."


Prediction: As we're getting acquainted with the SEC Network's generous offerings of football and men's basketball games this school year, do not be surprised if it will cost more to watch those games in the 2015-16 school year and beyond.

As syndicated columnist Norman Chad wrote last week: "If I know one thing and one thing only, it's TV. So listen up. The NBA recently signed a nine-year, $24 billion contract with ESPN and TNT that goes into effect with the 2016-17 season, tripling the amount of the current deal. That means one thing and one thing only: your cable bill is going up, again."

Happy birthday

To Devin Booker. He turned 18 on Thursday. ....To Trey Lyles. He turns 19 on Wednesday. ... To Chuck Verderber. He turns 55 on Monday. ... To Gale Catlett. The former UK assistant and head coach at Cincinnati and West Virginia turned 74 on Friday. ... To Roy Kramer. The former SEC commissioner turned 85 on Thursday. ... To Dale Brown. The former LSU coach turned 79 on Friday.