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And The Harrison Twins Pick… UK

The highly-rated Harrison twins have made their college choice.  The identical 6-5, 210-pound guards from Texas have picked — you guessed it — Kentucky as their new basketball home.  John Calipari does it again.

Andrew and Aaron are both top-five recruits in the nation.

A tough break for Maryland and Terp grad Kevin Plank, the head man at Under Armour.  The shoe company was believed to be Maryland’s “in” with the Harrisons.  But “in” apparently wasn’t “in” enough when it came to battling Calipari on the recruiting circuit.

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Hoops-Playin’ Harrison Twins To Pick Between UK And Maryland Today… But Is It All About The Shoes?

Recruiting stories here at MrSEC.com are usually handled by Josh Ward on our Recruiting page, but this one’s got a little extra juice courtesy of CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish.  That’s why we’re homepaging it.

Today at 5pm ET, Andrew and Aaron Harrison — highly recruited twin guards from Texas — will make their college announcement.  The race is down to John Calipari at Kentucky and Mark Turgeon at Maryland.  According to the players’ father, “nobody knows nothin’” about which school the boys will pick.

But here’s where Parrish comes into the fray.  In his view, this fight isn’t between the Wildcats and Terrapins or even Calipari and Turgeon.  It’s between the Big Blue and Under Armour:

 

“The Harrison twins are consensus top-five national prospects in the Class of 2013 who live just outside Houston. They are both guards. They are both future lottery picks. They are good enough together to make just about any program a contender for the 2014 Final Four, which is why they’ve long been Kentucky and Maryland’s primary recruiting targets. But that doesn’t mean they’re actually picking between Kentucky and Maryland. I mean, technically they are, I guess. But the reality is that the names and locations of the schools are less important than the man coaching one of them and the shoe company supporting the other. The truth is that this is about John Calipari vs. Under Armour, and that’s why this soon-to-be-decided recruiting battle is this year’s most fascinating by a wide margin.

So who’s gonna win?

Will it be the biggest and baddest recruiter the sport has ever seen or the still relatively young shoe company that A) was founded by a Maryland graduate, B) now outfits the Maryland athletic department and C) spent the past two summers funding a summer team led by the Harrison Twins and run by their father? Will it be Coach One-and-Done or the school connected to a company that employs somebody named Chris Hightower, whom Aaron Harrison Sr. acknowledged toUSA Today is the only adult who was allowed to directly contact his sons throughout most of their recruitment? Will it be The Swoosh or We Must Protect this House?…

‘Without Under Armour supporting the Harrison’s [summer] team and making friends with the family, there’s no logical way for anyone to think Maryland could compete head-to-head with Kentucky on two people like this from Texas,’ said former Nike, Reebok and adidas executive Sonny Vaccaro, a man who knows a thing or two about influencing with shoe-company money. ‘There’s no way Nike and John Calipari, in a head-to-head fight for recruits they seriously target who don’t have an umbilical-cord connection to another school, should ever lose a guy. It’s illogical to think it could happen. But in the world we live in it’s very logical, and it might happen here because there’s a new player in the game.’

That new player is Under Armour.”

 

If anyone knows anything about the ability of shoe companies to lure/coax/bait recruits into signing with a school it’s the legendary Vaccaro.  (Free tip: The book’s nearly a quarter-century old, but for a good read on Vaccaro and the filthy underbelly of college basketball recruiting, pick up a copy of “Raw Recruits.”)

Wow, whodathunkit?  A shoe company getting involved in basketball recruiting.

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Phillips To UK Fans: “You’re Either With Us Or Against Us”

Joker Phillips sounds like a man who’s been seated in a very hot chair.  And then had that chair pushed back into a corner.

Speaking to Kentucky fans at a Louisville kickoff luncheon this week, the embattled coach had an interesting message for Wildcat fans (who’ve not exactly been snapping up tickets):

 

“Big Blue Nation, I’m challenging you.  You’re either with us or against us.”

 

Wow.  I don’t ever recall hearing a coach say something like that to his fanbase regardless of context or mood.  That’s the kind of comment that can make some on-the-fencers say, “Okay, I’m against you.”

But at this point, what’s Phillips got to lose?  His team is picked to finish among the dregs of the SEC and his fanbase is more interested in John Calipari’s recruiting class than UK’s rivalry football game with Louisville.

Maybe that “us against the world” theme will resonate with his players.  Or maybe — and this is the more likely scenario — the Cats will finish just as the prognosticators have predicted and Phillips’ “with us or against us” one-liner will come back to haunt him.

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SEC Recruiting Headlines 6/8/12

1. Georgia commit Derrick Henry will visit Alabama. Should the Bulldogs be worried?

2. LSU has depth on the way at the fullback position.

3. Several of the nation’s top prospects will be in Gainesville during Will Muschamp’s camp.

4. Here’s a one-on-one interview with the nation’s No. 1 football prospect Robert Nkemdiche.

5. Aaron and Andrew Harrison know they’re a high priority for John Calipari and Kentucky.

6. Interesting story by Mike DeCourcy on John Calipari coaching the Dominican Republic national team.

7. Arkansas’ basketball program will likely look for help from the junior college ranks.

8. Here’s an update on Arkansas 2014 quarterback target Rafe Peavey.

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UK’s Calipari Has Heard Enough About His New Scheduling Plans

If you’re tired of people talking about Kentucky’s decision not to play Indiana… and John Calipari’s decision to start scheduling as a “non-traditional” program, you’re not alone.  Coach Cal himself seems to be getting tired of the feedback.

According to The Louisville Courier-Journal, Calipari responded yesterday to a question about the IU/UK series with “a 585-word rant.”  The coach said he hears from fans who say, “Schedule for America!”  His reply?  “I’m not scheduling for America, I’m scheduling for us.”

And there was more.  Much, much more:

 

“So what we’re doing is what’s right for our program.  (Indiana coach) Tommy (Crean), move on.  It’s done.  We’re good.  I’m good.  You’re good.  You have your schedule.  We have our schedule…

‘Why don’t you play each other?’  Because.  ‘What do you mean because?’  Because, because, because.”

 

Question: If another program refused to play Kentucky on its terms and that coach’s rationale was “because, because, because,” how do you think Wildcat fans would react?

But I digress.

Eventually, Calipari turned the conversation toward his decision to play more games at neutral sites and fewer as home-and-home series.  “Well, why would you do that?” he asked rhetorically.  “Because we can and no one else can.”

He then went on to say — according to The Courier-Journal — “he has some wild ideas that would make some people ‘very angry’ and prompt others to wonder, ‘When did they have the time to think this stuff up?’”

Like the men’s basketball / women’s basketball / football tripleheader he spitballed last week?  Yep.

“I want to play a tripleheader so bad,” Calipari said.  “You have no idea how I want to do a tripleheader now… and just overrun a city.”

We’ll just say what we said when Calipari first claimed a couple of months ago that he basically wanted to turn Kentucky basketball into a college version of the barnstorming Harlem Globetrotters — What’s wrong with playing games on campus?

Calipari has been a terrific boost for Wildcat basketball and the SEC as a whole.  He’s part Bill Veeck and part PT Barnum with a pinch of the best recruiter the world’s ever seen mixed in for kicks.  Even so, at some point a Kentucky fan or two might just get tired of “overrunning” other cities and decide that UK needs to care of its hometown ticket buyers, too.

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UF’s Muschamp Does Right By Transferring Gator

Last week it was learned that true freshman Florida linebacker Graham Stewart planned to transfer.  Will Muschamp put no restrictions or limitations on the kid’s options and Stewart — a Connecticut native — has decided to play at UConn instead of for the Gators.  Florida’s coach plans on taking an extra step for Stewart as well:

 

“I’m going to petition the NCAA for him to be eligible immediately.  He’s a great kid.  A family situation occurs like that and you’re so far from home, you deserve to have that opportunity and not have any penalty for it.”

 

Muschamp said last week that Stewart told him “he wanted to leave to get closer to home due to some personal issues.”

Kudos to Florida’s coach for showing some heart.  Whether it’s Mark Richt’s open door policy for transfers or John Calipari’s desire to push his players to the pros as soon as possible, these types of stances have to help coaches on the recruiting trail.

Too bad more coaches don’t realize that.

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(For The 1000th Time) Calipari Not Interested In Leaving UK

Every spring the rumors start to spread.  ”Team X is interested in Kentucky coach John Calipari and he might finally be ready to return to the NBA.”  Usually “Team X” is the New York Knickerbockers.  And that’s the case this spring as well.

But just as the rumors begin every spring, Calipari — like clockwork — shoots them down each April, May and June.  He’s done so again, yesterday telling The New York Daily News that the Knicks should stick with the interim coach they have in place now:

 

“Mike Woodson is a dear friend of mine and he is doing an unbelieveable job and he has gotten Carmelo (Anthony) to be the Carmelo he needs to be to win.  And I got the best job in basketball, in my opinion.  You don’t need to make decisions financially, which I did the last time when I went to the Nets.  Fifteen million back in 1996, when you’re a kid, is like $30 million now.  At Kentucky, you can win championships.  And you have a stage that really helps the young people.”

 

So will that be the last of the Calipari-to-the-NBA talk?  Nope.  That’s about as likely as the NCAA looking the other way when the slightest question is raised about Cal or one of his signees.

As we said earlier today, it’s all part of the Calipari package.

 

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Bluegrass Writers Aren’t Buying What Calipari’s Selling

Over the weekend, John Calipari took to his own website — CoachCal.com – to try to explain to Kentucky fans why his “nontraditional” program needed to schedule differently than other programs.  We’ve talked about the issue yesterday and today already.  Calipari’s goal is to play more marquee games on neutral courts.  Visiting fewer “name” programs campuses means fewer “name” programs will visit Rupp Arena and we at MrSEC.com think that’s a shame for UK fans.

Apparently we’re not alone in that view.  In fact, two Lexington writers are pooh-poohing Calipari’s explanation.

Mark Story of The Lexington Herald-Leader lays out a number of topics today and assesses each as being either fact or fiction.  Here’s an excerpt:

 

“In a scheduling missive he posted on his personal Web site on Sunday night, John Calipari claims that signing contracts for longer than two years for annual rivalry games with Louisville, Indiana and North Carolina potentially puts Kentucky — with its full embrace of one-and-done players and the annually in-flux rosters that have resulted — in a situation that is unfair to UK’s players.

Verdict:  Fiction.”

 

Story’s colleague at The Herald-Leader, John Clay, also takes exception to Calipari’s spin job:

 

“John Calipari might be college basketball’s greatest salesman, but, sorry, I’m not buying this one.

I thought John Calipari came to Kentucky because of the great tradition.

I thought that ‘the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball’ is the program’s slogan.

Now, when it serves UK’s purpose, it’s a ‘nontraditional program.’

Calipari has done tremendous good since he took over the program three years ago.  He’s won a national title.  He’s been to two Final Fours.  I can see his stance on most every position.  But not this one.

The coach doesn’t want to play in Bloomington.  That’s the bottom line.  He can spin it any way he wants, but what it comes down to is that he doesn’t want to go back to Assembly Hall.  Indiana is more than willing to come to Rupp Arena next season.  But Calipari doesn’t want to go to Bloomington the next.”

 

Can’t say that we disagree with Clay’s sentiments.  After all, here’s what we wrote on this topic exactly one week ago today:

 

“Both coaches have their own best interests at heart, of course.  (Indiana’s Tom) Crean knows that Kentucky under Calipari will likely remain an NBA-lite type of program.  Better to face them with a homecourt advantage every other year.

Calipari knows that putting the games on neutral courts will drive up television interest in the game… not that the Cats are short on exposure as things currently stand.  Also, if you’ve got the heavyweight program, why go into the other guy’s gym at all?  Remember, UK had two losses last season.  One came in the finals of the SEC Tournament to Vanderbilt.  The other came in December at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.”

 

Whatever spin Calipari puts on his decision to not play Indiana or North Carolina this season, the fact of the matter remains that the class of 2012 does not look to be as good as the class of 2011.  That’s not just for Kentucky, but for the national 2012 class as a whole.  And as his team looks — on paper at least — like it might struggle a hair more than last year’s bunch as a result, UK’s coach is easing back off the scheduling throttle just a bit.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  UK plays a good schedule every year.  They’ll still play a good schedule this year, too.  For that reason, Calipari shouldn’t feel the need to pitch his program as “nontraditional” and in need of some newfangled scheduling methods.  After all, in three years of traditional scheduling the Cats have reached an Elite Eight, a Final Four, and a won a national title.

Why change now?  Unless your goal is to lead a team to an undefeated season — as Calipari has stated his is — and you realize that avoiding tough road trips into hostile gyms gives you a better chance to do so.

Hmmm.

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Calipari Says Noel Is “Not A Finished Product”

Nerlens Noel is being viewed by many as the man who’ll step in at Kentucky and pick up right where Anthony Davis left off.  They forget, of course, that Billy Donovan called Davis one of the game’s “all-time” greats.  Those are big shoes to fill… even for Noel.

Commenting on his new signee, John Calipari compared Noel to Davis and another of this previous greats.  But he also points out the youngster has some work to do:

 

“I’ve been blessed three times in my career to have a player that can change the game without really scoring with Marcus Camby, Anthony Davis and now Nerlens Noel.  I will tell you that Nerlens, just like Anthony, is not a finished product. He’s got a lot of work to do, and we have a lot of work to do to get him to where I think he’s capable of being, but he is a special player who I am ecstatic to have an opportunity to work with.”

 

Wildcat fans would be wise to temper their expectations for Noel.  He may be a tremendous player.  But guys like Davis don’t come along too often.

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UK’s Calipari Defiant After Championship; Writer Says He’s Just Getting Started… We Agree

John Clay of The Lexington Herald-Leader doesn’t sound like a man who thinks John Calipari will be leaving for the NBA’s New York Knicks anytime soon.  And it doesn’t sound like he believes Calipari’s first national title will be his last.

An excerpt from his column today:


“Outside (UK’s locker room on Monday night) stood John Calipari, weary and happy and a tad defiant.

‘There’s a lot of angry people right now, that said you couldn’t do it,’ the Kentucky coach was saying.  ‘Tried to put the black hat on me and all that stuff.  They’re not real happy.’

Those mad men (and women) better get used to it.

Monday night wasn’t the end of something, it was probably the beginning.

‘If this was 1985, I’d have all these guys back and we’d be trying to go undefeated next year,’ he said.  ‘It’s not 25 years ago.  It’s now.’

No one has figured out ‘now’ better than John Calipari.”


Indeed he has.  UK could possibly lose its entire starting lineup to the NBA Draft this summer.  We’ll know next Tuesday who all is a’ goin’ and who all is a’ stayin’.

But is there any doubt that Calipari will simply reload with five of the best recruits in the nation if/when that happens?  And after three years of doing things his way, Coach Cal’s track record looks pretty good: Elite Eight, Final Four, national title.

Whether kids arriving, playing and leaving in seven-month intervals makes a mockery of “college” basketball or not, Calipari didn’t create the rule.  He just knows how to win while using it.

Clay is probably right, SEC fans.  Kentucky and Calipari are on a roll.  Eventually the coach will land some kids who won’t have the attitude to buy into his team-first philosophy, but he hasn’t yet.  (And if he has, they’ve made it at least as far as the Elite Eight anyway).

The only thing that can run UK off the tracks at this point is a Calipari departure or some sort of NCAA bust.  And as we noted earlier today, Calipari’s never been caught doing anything wrong despite the fact that he’s the most-eyeballed coach in the country.

So get used to it.  Just as Alabama will be the SEC favorite in most years so long as Nick Saban is in Tuscaloosa, Kentucky will be the league favorite in hoops just as long as Calipari is kicking around Lexington.

The league’s traditional powers both look as if they’re just getting started.

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