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By LARRY VAUGHT
Dick Vitale has not been surprised that John Calipari has been such a good coaching fit for the Kentucky basketball program.
“Not many guys can handle that job. John is one I thought could, and he has,” said Vitale.
Even Vitale’s wife, Lorraine, noticed the way Calipari got along with former players when she came to Lexington with him when he spoke at the John Calipari Fantasy Experience.
“My wife pointed out that she could see the warmth of relationships between the players and coach with the way they hugged and were shaking hands,” Vitale said. “She said that told her he built strong relationships with his players. It was so great seeing Anthony (Davis), Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist), Demarcus (Cousins), Wayne (Turner), Derek (Anderson) and all those other guys interacting with Calipari.”
However, Vitale has had to admit he was wrong about one thing.
“I didn’t believe he could win a national championship with a steady flow of personnel changes, and even told him that,” Vitale said. “It slaps in the face of everything you talk about being in rhythm and having familiarity in putting together and efficient team together. What he has done is such an unbelievable compliment to his teaching skills. It tells me he can teach, blend a unit together.
“Heck, he’s already coaching this team and the season has not even started. I am doing the first two games (on ESPN against Maryland and Duke) and he is already convincing everyone that they might be 0-2 but to look at the bottom line at the end of the year. It’s part of his psychological makeup. No way he believes in his heart they will be 0-2.”
Vitale could see Kentucky back in the Final Four, too, despite losing the top six players off last year’s national title team.
“They will be talented, but last year they had three quality players (Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones) that had been to the Final Four. This year’s team does not have that luxury,” Vitale said. “This year’s freshmen don’t have what last year’s group did with the veterans. (Nerlens) Noel has got to be the man right from the start. That could be a problem early, but when you are looking at what might be by the season’s end, then Kentucky could be right there.”