John Calipari, hero anti-NCAA crusader?

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Kansas v Kentucky

Those who oppose the NCAA as an old-fashioned, draconian regulatory body designed for the sole purpose of maintaining profit-driven financial control over a highly valuable workforce are praising yesterday’s comments by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, who addressed a basketball-related change in NCAA rules that will allow college players to declare for the NBA draft and, if invited, attend the NBA combine before they have to decide whether to withdraw from the draft in order to maintain their collegiate eligibility as follows:

Met with our team today. Told them that during the season it’s about the team and sacrificing for each other – which they did this year. When the season’s over, it’s about each individual player and what’s right for them and their families.

With that being said, every player who is eligible for the draft, including our walk-ons, will submit their names for the NBA Draft in hopes of being invited to the combine in May. The new rule states they can submit their name a total of three times. If they choose to withdraw, they have until 10 days after the combine. It’s a true win-win for the student-athlete.

Just so you know, having every kid put their name in the draft is about all players getting the right information. Players not invited to the combine know what that means. Players invited to the combine and told to go back to school know that that means. As I said, it’s a win-win for the student athletes. I like the rule.

(Emphasis added.)

On one hand, Calipari is right to encourage his players to gain as much information as they can about their professional prospects, especially where there is no penalty to the player for seeking that information. The new regime– allowing players to wait until after the combine to decide whether to withdraw from the draft– provides players considering continuing their basketball careers on a professional level a valuable option.

Calipari isn’t merely praising this change as a beneficial option for “student-athletes,” however. Continue reading

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ND Confessional: Sacrifice for Success

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With thirty-four seconds remaining in their game against Kentucky, Notre Dame called timeout. The score was tied at sixty-six, and the Irish had just turned the ball over to the Wildcats. The shot clock was off.

As soon as Kentucky inbounded the ball, ND fouled, sending the UK ballhandler to the line. He made both shots, giving the ball back to Notre Dame down 68-66, with thirty-three seconds left on the clock and the chance to tie the game or take the lead and claim a berth in the Final Four.

ND could have had the final possession of the game with more than thirty seconds on the clock, down two, down one, or still tied, if they had fouled Kentucky immediately. The preceding paragraph would have described reality. It does not, because they did not.

Instead, the Irish passively allowed Kentucky to write the script for the game’s final seconds, their foul coming with a mere six seconds left on the game clock. Why wait so long? A quick foul seems like the obvious play. Even if Kentucky made both free throws– and they might not!– Notre Dame still would have nearly a full-length possession in which to tie or take the lead. In essence, an immediate foul inverts in ND’s favor the situation that existed coming out of ND’s timeout. Sure, they might be down two points rather than tied, but they seemed content to grant Kentucky that opportunity to score anyway. The only difference is time.

ALDLAND Podcast

Hello ALDLAND listeners, its the ALDLAND Podcast team, and we have quite the episode for you this week. Lip service is paid to the end of the Olympics and Canada is blamed for things that are assuredly their fault. If that’s not enough, your two favorite co-hosts get deep into discussing the NCAA tournament bubble.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

ALDLAND Podcast

After an extended break the ALDLAND podcast is back and better than ever. College basketball is finally on the menu, as is discussion of a big trade in the MLB. And as always, listen for ALDLAND’s college football picks of the week.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

#2 Michigan State beats #1 Kentucky in the Champions Classic

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In their second game of the season, the Michigan State Spartans jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and never trailed the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats en route to a four-point win, 78-74. For the most part, MSU looked like a typical experienced Tom Izzo team. They were physical, they caused and capitalized on turnovers, they were as effective as ever on scoring on inbound plays, and the team’s designated leaders led. Point guard Keith Appling showed that, from a positional standpoint, this is his team. Adreian Payne showed that he can control a game from any position on the floor. Sophomore and former Big Ten Freshman of the Year Gary Harris showed that he can be an even more complete player than he was last year. (Marcus thinks he can be the National Player of the Year this season.) Branden Dawson is back as a reliable gap-filler.

In listening to and watching tonight’s game, I noticed two things that were slightly different, at least in comparison with last year’s team. One is these Spartans’ ability and willingness to push the ball. Izzo’s Michigan State teams never have been strictly half-court operations, but the frequency with which they ran tonight, and the speed at which they did so, were notable. The second thing is that, as good as Payne is, he’s not going to be able to run the gauntlet of this season alone. Basically no big man can, and the absence of Derrick Nix clearly hurts the Spartans’ depth in the paint. (Nix, for his part, made his presence known online shortly after the final buzzer with the most Michigan State tweet ever.)

On the other side, Kentucky is a good team that will get even better, perhaps much better, before too long, and games like this, whatever, the outcome only serve to benefit John Calipari’s current project. Julius Randle, in particular, seemed to be everywhere for the Wildcats, especially in the second half, when he scored twenty-three of his twenty-seven points. Randle led all players in scoring and in rebounds, with thirteen. One aspect that Kentucky must improve is its free-throw shooting. They managed to bring their average above 50% thanks in part to plenty of opportunities (thirty-six overall, versus seventeen for Michigan State) to shoot from the line in the second half.

Looking forward, the sky may be the limit for young Kentucky, while Michigan State fans have to hope their very good, veteran team hasn’t peaked.

Is Rick Pitino trying to sink his player’s draft stock?

russ smith louisvilleAfter Louisville guard Russ Smith’s team won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it was a little bit surprising when Smith’s father announced right after the game that his son was entering the NBA draft. It felt for whatever reason like a kneejerk sports parent move– just let the kid enjoy the moment for a while– and besides, Smith hadn’t had a great game and is a bit on the small side to boot. He was one of the best players on the best team this year, though, so it wasn’t surprising when Smith confirmed his dad’s statement the next day.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino confirmed it too, until he didn’t. ESPN reports:

“Russ, I think, is 50-50,” [Pitino] told Sports Radio 790 in Louisville [today]. “He’s a very confused young man in terms of his decision right now. He didn’t want his dad to say that about him coming out. He wanted time to think of it.”

Yeesh. Does Pitino, who has coached at major college programs and in the NBA, think he’s helping his player with those statements? (He’s not.) Is he trying to force Smith to return to Louisville? (Maybe.) Is he showing early signs of tattoo ink poisoning? (Possibly.)

Why can’t college basketball coaches in the state of Kentucky leave well enough alone when it comes to their players declaring for the NBA draft?

Kentucky’s loss in the first round of the NIT is in the Wildcats’ best interest

You may say that John Calipari is a schemer, but he’s not the only one. Or rather, this current Wildcat team isn’t the only one on Coach Cal’s mind. In fact, it hardly ever is. Having embraced the one-and-done player more than any other coach, Calipari’s by-the-seat-of-his-pants recruiting method recalls a radio DJ’s live programming of a music show, always listening to upcoming songs in cue while barely conscious of the broadcast as it plays out over the air in realtime. Calipari always has at least one eye on the future because he has to restock his starters every year. He is concerned with his current team’s performance insofar as it helps him bring in future recruiting classes.

In general, the best way to do this is by winning. When you don’t win, though, and perception is as important to you as it is to Kentucky, you need to mitigate your damages. Plenty of teams whose seasons didn’t work out quite as they’d hoped would be glad to be a number one seed in the NIT. For these Wildcats, though, a top seed and an NIT championship would sit on their heads like a crown of thorns, a mockery of discounted prestige. Sure, people would be distracted once the NCAA tournament begins in earnest today, but there are plenty who take pleasure in lampooning teams like Kentucky (or Kentucky in particular), and each additional NIT game played would be something of an embarrassment for the current players, sure, but really for a coach whose sights are set a year or two in the future. Better to stop the bleeding right away, take yourself out of whatever sort of light it is that shines on the NIT stage, and regroup for next year. The coach already has.

News clips

Spending all day on the road meant I got to hear all the daytime sports radio I could handle. Thrilling, I know. I did pick up a few interesting nuggets, though:

– If Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman Trophy this year, as experts now expect, he will be the first freshman to do so. He won’t be the youngest winner, though. That distinction belongs to Mark Ingram, Jr.

– Apparently there’s some sort of adderall flap surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles and other NFL players. All the obvious issues aside, ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio said that he thinks the adderall story is a cover up. Because the NFL has a policy of not commenting or elaborating on players’ positive drug tests, the players are free to say whatever they’d like about the test. Florio thinks that adderall is the convenient cover story du jour for players who actually tested positive for a more controversial substance.

– Kentucky hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to serve as Joker Phillips’ replacement at the football head coach position. While Kentucky local sports talk radio listeners generally approved of the hire, citing the successes of the Stoops family and Mike’s own rapid improvement of the FSU defense, no one mentioned the only factor that matters right now for the future success of UK football: program funding. Don’t forget that the UK athletic department just spent more on a preseason basketball pep rally than it did on an entire year of football recruiting. For Stoops’ sake, I hope he negotiated a substantial increase in funding for the football program. If not, his pedigree and resume will be irrelevant.

– Before leaving Army for Duke, Mike Krzyzewski interviewed at Vanderbilt but didn’t take the job because the VU athletic director at the time, fearing media exposure of an ongoing search, wouldn’t let Coach K visit the campus.

Midseason Monday

We’re into the meat of the 2012 football season with heavy games for most teams from here on out. It’s also the time when teams’ reputations for the year become solidified. One such team is Auburn, which fell to 1-6 on the season, 0-5 in conference with a 17-13 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville. Four years ago, I watched these teams play under the lights in the same stadium. In 2008, Auburn was 5-0 and highly ranked, but the game outcome was the same. This year’s win over the TIgers/Plainsmen/Eagles won’t do as much for the Commodores’ strength of schedule, but it does push them to 2-3 in the conference, and it’s an important win to kick off the second half of a schedule that should be easier than the first.

While Vanderbilt took a necessary step in the positive direction Saturday, Michigan State took another step toward a lost season with a 12-10 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor. More on that game later in the week. Back to the SEC for a moment, where the Eastern division is one of the most power concentrated and confusing divisions in the nation. Florida swamped South Carolina, 44-11, to go to 7-0 (6-0), while Georgia escaped Lexington with a 29-24 win over Kentucky. If Florida’s going to lose a game this year, it will be next week when they host Georgia, because the rest of their schedule is soft cake (Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, and Florida State). In the SEC West, LSU and Texas A&M renewed their rivalry in a compelling game featuring early Aggie control and a Tiger comeback win.

Elsewhere in the top 25, Alabama and Oregon rolled. Two quick notes on Oregon: 1) I’m worried that Florida’s #2 rating in the first BCS, together with their easy finishing schedule, will mean that we don’t get to see Alabama and Oregon in the national championship game, a matchup that feels very compelling and intriguing; and 2) the ALDLAND staff is still waiting on it’s autographed Oregon cheerleader calendar. Jog back to the SEC West, where Mississippi State is the most unheralded undefeated team in the country. After beating MTSU Saturday, though, they’re unlikely to stay that way, finishing with Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. Of course, nothing is more perennially unheralded than the Starkville Dogs, and that schedule only has something to do with it. Most of the rest of the top 25 won, including Clemson, Oregon State, and Stanford in important conference games. The upstart Texas Tech Red Raiders survived in triple overtime to beat TCU, and the very impressive Kansas State beat West Virginia in Morgantown 55-14 in a game in which I’d only somewhat jokingly predicted WVU would score 100 after being embarrassed the week before. Dana Holgorson’s air raid offense appears to be out of jet fuel.

On Sunday, the Vikings continue to mount an increasingly compelling challenge to those who would dismiss them by going to 5-2 with a win over flash in the pan Arizona. RGIII continues to impress despite another close loss, this week to the Giants. The Saints doubled their win total by beating Tampa Bay, and the Raiders came back to beat the ailing Jaguars, who lost Maurice Jones-Drew and Blaine Gabbert, sending out the bat signal for David Garrard (I hope). The Patriots beat the Jets in overtime, although VSL’s Bobby O’Shea, a noted Jets fan, thinks that something is wrong in New England, and I’m inclined to agree. Whether it was the defensive injuries Baltimore suffered last week or Houston’s push to come back from a loss, the Texans returned to 2012 form with a 43-13 win over the Ravens.

In baseball, the World Series is nearly set. The Tigers are in(!), and the Cardinals and Giants are playing a game seven right now, which the Giants are winning 7-0 in the fourth. In other current news, Ndamukong Suh just separated Jay Cutler’s neck from the rest of his body. Bears 10, Lions 0 in the first half.

Uncovering John Calipari’s true motivations and machinations

This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated includes a transcript of Dan Patrick’s interview with former Kentucky Wildcat and presumptive New Orleans Hornet Anthony Davis. Included was this exchange, initiated by DP’s curiously worded question:

Patrick: Did you tell Kentucky Coach John Calipari you were going to go pro or did he tell you?

Davis: He told me. He told me to [come into his office]. When I walked in, first thing he said: “Look, Ant, you have to leave. You did too many great things this year. Won a national championship, got every award. There’s no point in you coming back.” I started laughing. But he had no smile on his face. He was dead serious.

Patrick: Did you want to stay at Kentucky?

Davis: I wanted to stay. Great team, great coach. But the way life is, you have to move on.

It’s tough to know how much to make of this out-of-context exchange. When Coach Cal called Davis into his office, was that the first time they talked about the star freshman’s departure? When Davis laughed, was it because he found the suggestion outlandish and wanted to stay, or was he just being sheepish? When Davis told DP he wanted to stay, was he being serious?

Still, there’s a persistent feeling that Cal really was kicking the kid on down the line to make room for the next crop of high-profile players. In a program operated on a one-and-done model, having a player of Davis’ talent stick around for another season could mean that UK would lose at least one of its top recruits, who commit to Kentucky because they want to shine for a single season and move along to the league where players get paid above the table.