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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari started a national media tour Monday to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” and admitted he had no idea how many players would leave UK early for the NBA draft and denied reports that he had any interest in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know right now,” said Calipari on the Dan Patrick Show when asked how many players might leave UK. “We had great conversations. They all have the information. I am not going to meet with them nine times. This is it. Tell me what you want to do so I can help you.”
He later when on Kentucky Sports Radio and said he called 10 NBA general managers the day after UK lost to Connecticut in the national championship game to gauge where his players might land in the draft. He said he even had one player on the way to the airport in Dallas after the title game he told him he didn’t want to leave UK.
“As I was doing all of the other research, they were throwing his name in, and a couple of them told me he could be a first round pick. So, I had to call him back in and say, ‘I know what you said to me, but you and your mom need to sit down and talk about this because here’s some of the information I’m getting,’” Calipari said.
“If you’re in the first round, you’ve got to go do this, if you’re in the lottery, you’ve got to go do this.” In fact, if a player wants to come back, he has them sit down and explain why, like Patrick Patterson did back in 2009,” Calipari said.
Calipari said he doesn’t see any way all eight players that might consider leaving early would do that. He noted they have until April 27 to make a decision to put their names into the draft and that they are “not hurting” him or UK by waiting to make a decision.
“You obviously know that there’s a couple, they’re going to go, and then there’s three or four that are like ‘what will you guys do?’ At this point? I don’t know. I don’t think all eight will leave. How about that? We finally will have some guys come back. I don’t think eight will go, but five, six, four, I don’t know,” he said.
He also addressed the rumor former Kentucky star Rex Chapman put out a few hours before the national championship game that he had been told it was a “done deal” that Calipari was going to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Obviously it is not true,” Calipari told Patrick.
He said he was “surprised” that Chapman put that message on Twitter.
“You know, every year I have coached I am going somewhere. That is all part of being the coach at Kentucky but that disappointed me in that unless the Lakers told him, which I know wasn’t done … They had a coach. We had a coach. Getting ready for the championship game. I am not mad at Rex. We are moving on,” Calipari said.
Calipari said the rumor was not a distraction for him or the team because they didn’t know about it until after the game.
Patrick asked if Calipari would one day like to be offered the Lakers job?
“No, I am good We need to get this thing to two years (before a player can leave college for the NBA),” he said.
He said on Kentucky Sports Radio that he had a “great job” where he could impact the lives of players and their families and wanted to keep doing that. However, he told Patrick if players are still able to leave school after one year that it would “be hard” for him to still be coaching in three to five years.
“The option is to recruit players that are not good enough (to leave UK for the NBA after one year) or convince kids that should leave that they should stay,” Calipari told Patrick. “I am not comfortable with that and BBN is not comfortable with the first one (recruiting players not as good). Let’s get to two years because that is good for everyone.”
Calipari said even if he didn’t get the top-ranked players, the 50th rated recruit would still think he could be a one-and-done player.
“If I try to talk them into staying, people are going to say I am doing it for me,” he told Patrick. “I give information to families and they make the decisions. I can’t go at this any other way.”
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari says his postseason “tweak” to the Wildcats’ game plan was a simple matter of convincing freshman point guard Andrew Harrison to pass first instead of shoot.
The adjustment made Harrison more of a distributor in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments. He helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA championship — and during the run his twin brother Aaron made back-to-back clutch 3-pointers off feeds from Andrew.
During an television appearance Monday, Calipari said, “What I tried to do was make the game easier for Andrew.”
Connecticut beat Kentucky 60-54 in the championship, but the Wildcats’ performance may have helped the Harrisons’ NBA draft stock.
The twins are among several Kentucky freshmen projected as NBA prospects if they leave school early.
Could Kentucky lose seven players — five freshmen starters and sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — to the NBA draft?
As unlikely as that might seem to Kentucky fans, it doesn’t seem that unlikely to some who closely monitor the NBA draft.
Start with ESPN analyst Chad Ford who indicated on ESPN.com Wednesday that UK could lose more than the expected trio of Julius Randle, Cauley-Stein and James Young — all projected first-round picks in every mock draft I have seen.
Ford agreed that Randle and Young are “for sure gone” and put Cauley-Stein in the same category even though the sophomore explained after the title game that there would be reasons for staying in school — as well as having several millions reasons (dollar-wise) for going to the NBA. He has Randle ranked as the fifth best player with Young 16th and Cauley-Stein 19th
“The Harrison twins have wanted to leave all year according to multiple sources around the twins, but their draft stock made them iffy first rounders. I’m not sure it’s to the point that they are clear first rounders,” Ford said on ESPN.com. “Andrew probably has the most claim, but he’s not a lock. Another year at Kentucky would help.”
Aaron Harrison Sr. told the Houston Chronicle that he had not discussed the NBA with his sons before the title game and that he expected them to discuss the subject this weekend when the twins likely will come home. Harrison Sr. said about a month ago that he was fine with his sons staying at UK if that was their decision.
NBADraft.net has Andrew Harrison going 27th in the first round with Aaron going in the second round with the 35th overall.
Draftexpress.com has Randle going fourth, Cauley-Stein 12th and Young 17th. Draftexpress.com does not have any other Wildcat going in the first or second rounds. CBSSports.com has Randle, Cauley-Stein and Young in the same slots with Poythress 46th and Aaron Harrison 47th in the second round. CBS has Andrew Harrison as the 61st best prospect — there are 60 spots in the draft.
Most assumed that freshman Dakari Johnson would be back. While he said he had not thought about his draft status after Monday’s national title game loss, he also didn’t want to say he would be back at UK, either.
“Dakari Johnson would be a bubble first rounder as well,” Ford said.
He said he’s also heard rumblings that Poythress could declare, but says he would be on the same first-round bubble as Johnson.
“I think there’s a chance all of them are gone. There are certainly rumblings that direction. But the only three that really make sense right now are Randle, Young and Cauley-Stein,” Ford said.
Players don’t have long to make a decision. The draft is not until June 26 but players who wanted official NBA input have already had to request that and will receive by Monday. Those not requesting information have until April 27 to enter the draft.
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By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — Kentucky’s players were still trying to come to grips when their 60-54 loss to Connecticut in Monday’s national championship game when they started getting the question — would they be back at UK or head to the NBA.
“I don’t even know. I am not thinking about that right now. I am just thinking about this game,” said freshman center Dakari Johnson.
Next he got asked if that meant it was too early to say he would definitely be back at UK.
“I don’t know. I am still trying to deal with this loss,” Johnson said.
That’s basically what twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison said except they added they would have to discuss it with their family. Ditto for James Young. Julius Randle, considered the player that would be drafted the highest, dodged the question, too, as he softly answered question while trying to handle the disappointment of Monday’s loss.
Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who was injured and did not play the last three tourney games, had more to say than his teammates about what the future might hold.
“I have no idea. I haven’t thought about it like that,” Cauley-Stein said when asked what it was like to be together with so many teammates for the final time. “I am just trying to relish the moment with my brothers and see what some of them are doing. That is kind of how I based my decision last year (to come back to UK rather than going to the NBA.)
Two NBA scouts at the Final Four said Cauley-Stein was UK’s most intriguing prospect after Randle. His size and athleticism have scouts contemplating what his potential could be once he fully commits to improving his offensive game. Both said his injury — Cauley-Stein said after the game he had a “cracked bone, stress fracture” in his ankle — would not be an issue unless it was more severe than it appeared.
“I can see coming back. I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game,” he said. “I went up from last year and now I want to make another jump in my game. Could I come back to school and make that step and be safe or do I make the jump to the league and mess everything up? What if I go there and don’t do what I thought and I’m stuck and can’t come back to school?
“I love school. I love being at Kentucky. I love the fan base. I love the community. So why not stay until they make you leave? IYou just get better as you get older. There are so many things that go through my head.”
That would be what he called “millions of dollars” and being able to work only on his game without balancing school, which he called a full-time job.
“That kind of weighs in. My family weighs in. I will talk to my family and coaches and then decide what is best for my future and my game and if I could be happy either way.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari does not discourage players from leaving if he feels they are ready to make the jump. The question becomes how many of these players are truly ready — and NBA scouts warn that what happens in March won’t wipe out a season’s worth of observations.
“Well, I’ll sit down with each young man individually, probably have their family either with us or on a speaker phone and get them information and say, ‘If I can help you with anything, let me know. Tell me what you want to do, what do I need to do to help you?’ Calipari said after Monday’s loss.
“I kind of stay out of the decision making. I just get them information. So we’ll see. I have no idea because I haven’t talked to them and none of us have talked about that. We were playing to win the national championship. But now that the season’s over, it is about the players. It’s no longer about the program. It’s no longer about the team.
“It’s about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other now, for our team and our program and our school. Season’s over. Now it’s about them. And we’ll sit down with each of them and they will make decisions for themselves.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — As Julius Randle rode in a golf cart on the way to postgame interviews with teammate James Young, he buried his heads in his hands as the tears flowed down his cheeks. At the same time, members of the Kentucky pep band waiting in the AT&T Stadium hallway gave him a huge ovations.
Kentucky may have lost the national championship game 60-54 to Connecticut Monday night, but the Wildcats won a spot in the their fans’ hearts with their gritty play in March that turned a disappointing season into a near miraculous season.
The Wildcats were a No. 8 seed and given no chance to reach the Final Four when March Madness started. But after falling behind 30-15 in the first half — the fifth straight game they were behind by nine or more points — they came roaring back and actually had chances to take the lead in the second half. But missed 11 of 24 free throws, shooting only 39 percent from the field and giving up 17 points off 13 turnovers was just too much to overcome.
“I can’t believe what these guys got done together. Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “I needed to do a better job for these kids today, because they needed more help in this.
“You could tell early on they were feeling the game. One of the things we tried some stuff, pick‑and‑roll, obviously it didn’t work. We had to play zone. Tried to get their sweat to dry a little bit, make them less aggressive and it worked and these guys performed. They came back, We tried doing different things, but we didn’t have enough answers for these guys to finish that team. Their guard play was outstanding. But again we had our chances and that’s all you can ask of your basketball team.”
He’s right and that’s why he told his team he was proud of them and to hold their heads high despite the loss.
“We know he meant that and eventually this will be okay, but it hurts right now,” point guard Andrew Harrison, who had eight points, five assists, five rebound, three steals and one blocked shot — he also had four turnovers — said in a much softer voice than normal.
“We had a great run. Nothing went wrong tonight. We could have got blown out, but we came back. We are a team full of competitors, but they just made plays and beat us,” freshman center Dakari Johnson said.
Connecticut did make the big plays this time that Kentucky had in wins over Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. When Aaron Harrison had a chance to hit a key 3-pointer in this game, he missed. When Julius Randle drove inside late needing a basket, it came out. When Kentucky desperately needed a defensive rebound with about two minutes to play, it went to UConn.
Kentucky got just two field goals in the final six minutes after cutting the deficit to 51-49 — a big reason the Cats scored a season-low 54 points.
“We always think we are coming back,” Randle, who had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists against UConn’s sagging defense, said. “This time we just didn’t quite get it done.”
“We just kept our heads up and just kept fighting for each other. And we had a couple chances that we had to bring it back and we just kept fighting,” Young said as he sat at his locker with tears running down his cheeks. “This hurts. We’ll get over it, but it hurts.”
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart hopes fans will remember the remarkable March journey, and not just the ending. He expects a bit crowd at this afternoon’s welcome home celebration in Rupp Arena for a team that started five teenagers and learned how to play as a team as the season went on.
“I am awful proud of them,” Barnhart said. “I don’t know if you could have four more memorable back-to-back games than we did. Those were four pretty spectacular games and fun to watch. It was really good stuff.
“I probably didn’t see this run coming. Not many probably did. These kids had a lot of talent. People questioned their character and heart. The kids responded the right way with a remarkable run. Don’t lose sight of how special that was because of this 60-54 score. We just came up seven point shorts, but it was still a remarkable run.”
It was and give Kentucky credit for making no excuses. No complaints about officiating. No complaints about Willie Cauley-Stein being out with an injury. No complaints about missed shots.
“They played a great game. They hit big shots. Just take your hat off to them. They played better than we did,” sophomore Alex Poythress said.
Calipari had to plead, push and pull this team much of the season. He said he never lost faith in his team, but he often admitted it had not been an easy year and that he had made as many mistakes as his players. But it was obvious, even in this difficult moment, he was proud of what his team did.
“These kids really fought and tried and what they accomplished, I told them, this was the best group I’ve ever coached as far as really being coachable and wanting to learn. I’ve never coached a team this young. Never. Hope I don’t ever again,” Calipari said.
Then he even showed he still had his sense of humor.
“I think all these kids are coming back, so we should be good,” Calipari said.
That’s not going to happen with the NBA big bucks waiting, but it shows that Calipari truly had enjoyed this run.
“We’ve all had so much fun the last month,” Johnson said. “You hate to see it end this way, but what a month it has been. I’ll never forget it.”
By EDDIE PELLS
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — No conference wanted them. Several teammates and their coach left them. The NCAA kept them out for a year.
UConn won it all anyway.
Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky’s freshmen and a national title hardly anyone saw coming.
Napier had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.
Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.
“Honestly, I want to get everybody’s attention right quick,” Napier said. “You’re looking at the hungry Huskies. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us.”
Yes, it is only a short year since the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.
UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, Kentucky’s big-moment shooter in the last three games, missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that would’ve given the ‘Cats the lead. Kentucky never got closer.
One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky’s 11 missed free throws — a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13 for 24. UConn went 10 for 10, including Lasan Kromah’s two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.
“We had our chances to win,” Calipari said. “We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws. We just didn’t have enough.”
In all, Calipari’s One and Doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more-seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program’s fourth national title since 1999. They were the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.
Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor and all those other UConn champs of years past. This adds to the school’s titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
This one was, by far, the most unexpected.
A short year ago, UConn was preparing for its first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Longtime coach Jim Calhoun left because of health problems. And most damaging — the NCAA ban that triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.
Napier stuck around. So did Boatright. And Calhoun’s replacement, Kevin Ollie, figured out how to get the most out of their grit and court sense.
“Coach Calhoun, the greatest coach ever,” Ollie said. “He paved the way we just walked through it.”
They were one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally.
Kentucky’s biggest push started when James Young (20 points, seven rebounds) posterized Amida Brimah with a monster dunk to start a three-point play and trigger an 8-0 run.
In the middle of that, Boatright, who shut down Harrison’s twin brother, Andrew, most of the night, twisted his left ankle while receiving an innocuous-looking pass from Napier. He called a timeout. Got it worked on and came back out.
Napier and Niels Giffey made 3s on UConn’s next two possessions, and suddenly, that one-point lead was back up to five — fairly comfortable by this tight, taut, buzzer-beating tournament’s standards.
The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Young and the Harrison brothers could be first-rounders, too. Big question is whether they’ll want to leave on this note.
They were preseason No. 1, a huge disappointment through much of this season, then came on just in time for a run to the final.
But they got outdone by a team on a different sort of mission — a team led by Napier, who stuck with the program even though he knew the 2012-13 season was for nothing but fun.
Oh, what fun this was, though.
Napier was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison’s face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage night.
He could also shoot it a bit — including a 3-pointer in the first half when UConn was having trouble dissecting the Kentucky zone. The shot came from about 30 feet, right in front of the edge of the Final Four logo at Center Court, or, as Dick Vitale put it: “He shot that one from Fort Worth.”
They felt it back in Storrs, where they could be celebrating another title shortly. The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday.
If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course.
UCONN 60, KENTUCKY 54
KENTUCKY (29-11): Young 5-13 8-9 20, Aa. Harrison 3-7 0-1 7, An. Harrison 3-9 0-0 8, Randle 3-7 4-7 10, Johnson 2-5 1-4 5, Lee 0-0 0-0 0, Poythress 2-5 0-1 4, Hawkins 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 18-46 13-24 54.
UCONN (32-8): Nolan 0-3 0-0 0, Daniels 4-14 0-0 8, Giffey 3-7 2-2 10, Boatright 5-6 4-4 14, Napier 8-16 2-2 22, Samuel 1-1 0-0 2, Kromah 1-4 2-2 4, Brimah 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 10-10 60.
Halftime_UConn 35-31. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 5-16 (An. Harrison 2-4, Young 2-5, Aa. Harrison 1-5, Poythress 0-2), UConn 6-19 (Napier 4-9, Giffey 2-4, Boatright 0-1, Kromah 0-1, Daniels 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 33 (Young 7), UConn 34 (Daniels, Kromah, Napier 6). Assists_Kentucky 11 (An. Harrison 5), UConn 8 (Boatright, Napier 3). Total Fouls_Kentucky 10, UConn 17. A_79,238.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — There were no Kentucky players on the court at AT&T Stadium when Aaron Harrison settled into a front-row seat across from the Kentucky bench.
He came early to watch his sons, Aaron and Andrew, try to lead UK to a national championship win over Connecticut.
What about the rest of the family?
“I came about by myself. I didn’t want anybody to bother me. I want to think about the game,” he said showing why his sons are so intense.
College basketball TV analyst Kenny Smith stopped by to say hello and told him what an “incredible journey” his sons had been on this month and to enjoy the game win or lose.
Once he left, Harrison laughed and said, “Win. That’s what we do. That’s all they have ever done. The only word we are thinking about tonight is win. You don’t come this far to lose this game.”