By LARRY VAUGHT
Think John Calipari likes Tennessee coach Rick Barnes? If you ever wondered, Calipari made it clear today on the SEC coaches teleconference how much he thinks of Barnes going into Tuesday night’s game in Knoxville.
“The games I’ve watched of Tennessee, Rick’s doing a terrific job of playing his team the way they got to play to have success. They beat South Carolina pretty handily. They went to Alabama and had them down by as many as 15, 16 (points) and lost at the end of the game. Guard play is solid. They fight like heck. They’re rebounding and they’re really good,” he said.
“If they think you have somebody that can hurt them they trap. They’re playing a funky zone, and it’s aggressive. I think – again, watching it and knowing, and coaching against Rick in the past, this is a difficult game. He probably looked at the triangle-and-two and said, ‘Hey, let’s throw that at them.’
“When we faced it versus Kansas we scored 20 points and missed six free throws in it, but until I put Skal (Labissiere) in there who was confident enough to shoot that elbow jumper, it kind of put us out of rhythm for a minute. So, I would imagine they’ll try a lot of different stuff to keep us out of that post position.”
Calipari admitted he told Barnes to take the Tennessee job when it came open, calling it one “of the best jobs” and that it was close to Washington, D.C., where “you made your bones” as a recruiter.
“I said, ‘You can recruit there, you’re going to have everything you need there. It has an unbelievable following and it’s a team you just have to win.’ You know the last couple of guys kind of screwed it up a bit. I said, ‘I’m telling you, I’m in this league. It’s one of the best jobs in this league,'” Calipari said.
LOYAL TO BARNES
He’s never been on staff with Barnes but has the same loyalty to him as he does for coaches he’s worked with.
“If he ever called me for anything, he knows I would be there and it wouldn’t matter what he asked me, I would say, ‘Yes, I’m there.’ And he knows that and I feel the same way about him. And I would say anybody that I’ve worked for or with, or has worked for me or with me, that’s how it is,” Calipari said.
“The stuff we do is really, really hard. Rick’s not one of those guys that tries to be the only guy that can coach. He knows that other guys can coach too, but he also has pride in his own self as a coach. But he doesn’t say, ‘Well I want to be the only guy that knows coaching, everybody else is a schmo.’ That’s not who he is. He’s about his players and he is, again, a guy that I’ve called on many times as my teams have struggled, as I’ve struggled. ‘Talk to me, tell me what you’d do here. How would you do this?’ And I’m telling you, he’s one of the best in our business. One of the best.
“If I were an AD, and it’s like ok, time to rebuild, there’s only one or two or three guys that are above the crowd, and he’s one of them in my mind. That he’ll go get it done, he’s going to work. He’s it, and there’s a couple other guys that I have that kind of faith in. Maybe a Bob Huggins is right there the same way. He goes, he brings – those guys are change agents. They bring their culture with them. It’s not a whole lot of guys who do that.”